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Under the Beetle's Cellar Hardcover – August 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Walker, whose The Red Scream won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery of 1994, returns with a knockout novel that may send her back for another bow in '95. This time, Texas journalist Molly Cates is drawn into a headline-grabbing multiple kidnapping: religious fanatic and self-proclaimed prophet Samuel Mordecai has abducted 11 Austin elementary schoolchildren and their bus driver. The children and the driver, Walter Demming, are being held in another bus buried beneath a barn on the heavily protected compound of the Hearth ("earth with an h, which stands for heaven," says Mordecai) Nazarenes until the end of the world?a mere 50 days away, according to Mordecai's prophecy. Joining the action on day 45, Walker moves her story both forward and back, holding her readers with two narrative threads: one traces Demming's and the children's dark endurance under the earth; the other moves with Molly as she delves into Mordecai's past to help the feds and the cops (the latter of whom include her former husband, who is also her current lover) understand Mordecai's intentions. Readers quickly become attached to the private, utterly believable Demming, a Vietnam vet, and to the brave, alternately defeated and defiant, youngsters, one of whom suffers from severe asthma. Above ground, Molly bends her own rules to uncover the circumstances of Mordecai's birth and childhood, which figure prominently in his religious fantasies. With unerring pacing and a vivid supporting cast (including a frustrated FBI negotiator and a cunning killer operative who is a former nun), Walker leads up to her superbly orchestrated final act, which will leave readers cheering, weeping and gasping for breath. Mystery Guild selection; paperback rights to Bantam; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

One would think that Walker's The Red Scream (Doubleday, 1994), which won an Edgar Award, would be a tough act to follow. The intrepid author, however, exhibits no signs of sophomore jinx in this spectacular sequel featuring Texas journalist Molly Cates. Samuel Mordecai, a fanatical, self-proclaimed prophet, kidnaps a busload of schoolchildren and their driver, a detached Vietnam veteran, and holds them beneath a heavily armed compound. While Cates delves into Mordecai's bizarre past and federal authorities attempt to negotiate with him, it becomes clear that the hostages are doomed. The final 30 minutes of Under the Beetle's Cellar are almost painfully suspenseful, and listeners will surely draw parallels with the horrifying incidents in Waco, TX, involving David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Judith Ivey reads well, and the hokey music is used sparingly. The abridgment is adequate, but listeners may find the nonstop action a bit disconcerting. All in all, this is a good addition to the suspense collections of libraries that can't wait for an unabridged edition.?Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 311 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385468598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385468596
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #200,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mamalinde on September 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Anna Fields does an amazing job of reading the unabridged version of this Texas-based thriller. Actually, I suspect a born storyteller. The cast of characters is a most unlikely arrangement - our "Lone Star Monthly" reporter, involved with policeman ex-husband, a pyscho dog, a double amputee Veteran, an artist/poet/busdriver, a David Koresh style fundamentalist lunatic, a nun turned assassin, a homeless alcoholic, pregnant sorority girl, a requiste number of men in suits and some incredibly strong children -- somehow it works. The school bus is highjacked, and the clock is ticking. Suspenseful and very believable, full of Austin area landmarks, thoughtful commentary on religion (IMPORTANT, if true), and a bit of middle aged romance, this especially clever novel will not disappoint. I will definitely hunt down the other books written by this author. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Note: I really did not care for the name of the book, which surprisingly evolves from an Emily Dickinson poem - it seemed trite or silly until I got into the story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Meg Brunner on June 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mesmerizing thriller about a crazy cult leader and his followers who kidnap a bus driver and 11 of his young passengers (all under the age of 11) and bury them underground in a school bus for 50 days. The story has two setttings -- the outside world, featuring a reporter who is trying to find out as much as possible about the cult leader's past so she can figure out a way to convince him to let the children go -- and the world inside the bus, where the bus driver, a Vietnam vet with no experience with children, overcomes his own fear to try to keep the kids calm and safe. He starts telling them a story in installments, one chapter a day, and also begins working on a way to barracade themselves in the bus in preparation for the day he knows is coming, the day the cult leader will try to sacrifice them all. Something about these kids and that bus driver's story (about a turkey vulture named Jacksonville) really drew me in. This is probably the first time a stock thriller has ever reduced me to tears by the end (of course, I did have a fever of 102 at the time). Highly recommended!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tate on October 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
This books amazing. The plot was original and the characters engrossing.
Molly Cates is back on the scene when her connection with Samuel Mordecai, a fanatical cult leader, becomes known. Molly, a reporter in Texas, wrote about Mordecai for her piece on religious cults. Now Mordecai has kidnapped a school bus with children, and the bus driver, and is holding them hostage on his compound.
This book should be read by all mystery and thriller fans. Mary Willis Walker has no parallel when it comes to involved plots that could become convoluted and ridiculous in less capable hands. She tells the story of a boy turned cult leader who was terribly abused as a child, but never uses that fact to excuse his behavior, rather to understand how a boy emotionally and physically abadoned comes to such a horrific and devastating point. The scences between the bus driver and the school children are some of the best in fiction. You feel their terror and resentment of Mordecai and cheer when they outwit him.
A great read!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 12, 1996
Format: Audio Cassette
This book features a charismatic cult leader in Texas whokidnaps a bus full of children. The book's jacket said ithas a villian similar to Hannibal Lecter, but I am happy to say it is not gross or disgusting like Hannibal. Rather, I am Unhappy to say Mary W. W.'s villian is startlingly real. One knows something like this could well happen, and there are some post-Waco TX allusions. I've been reading Patricia Cornwell's books and I have to say, none of them were as riveting as this book, "Under the Beetle's Cellar".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Reviews No More on January 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
In the past seven days, I have been priviledged to read two of the best contemporary, yet believably realistic books, I have come across as of yet in many a moon. One was Bernice McFadden's sad and beautiful The Warmest December, and also this gripping saga by Mary Willis Walker. I expect she was heavily influenced by the Waco tragedy as this was published not long afterward. We don't know much about the victims of the real tragedy, but here Walker takes and breathes amazing life into her victims, a bus driver who served in Vietnam, and 11 children who are hidden underground beneath a barn for a 50-day "earth purification" before the world ends--at least according to religious fanatical cult leader Samuel Mordecai.

This is also the story of reporter Molly Cates, an incredibly brave and determined journalist who truly cares about the victims, and all the people tied to both the predator and his prey, beginning on day 46 of the 50-day torture.

Walker has the ability to take you into a nightmarish world that's hell on the cops and feds who know Mordecai is never going to let his hostages go, and she also shows you the resilience of young children in a hopeless and frightening situation. I was extraordinarily moved by their ability to keep up a sense of humor and sheer resolve alternately with low, hopeless moments of despair, and the reluctant heroism of bus driver Walter as he kept the kids calm with his soap operatic story of the turkey vulture named Jacksonville and the armadillo named Lopez that reflected his and a friend's time in captivity back in Vietnam.

Amazingly powerful and moving, this is a story that shows both the cruelty of the human animal that man can be, and also the tireless, selfless dedication of others as the opposing force.
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