John Paul Allen, Gifted Trust (Biting Dog Publications, 2003)

Gifted Trust, John Paul Allen's first novel, is definitely not safe for the office. Mr. Allen even provides a disclaimer at the beginning of the book, where he states, "The issue of abuse is just as disturbing to write about as it is to read, but it is something we must be aware of. Upon release of this edition of Gifted Trust I will be donating a percentage of my royalties to Child Advocates, Inc. of Houston, Texas, an organization that provides trained volunteers who help abused children during the legal process."

The title itself comes from the main character's gift to get his victims to trust him. This book explores the perspective of one of the most twisted serial killers ever to hit print. It has brutally vivid depictions of molestation, murder, and incest, all told from the perspective of the perpetrator, much like Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. I never did finish Zombie, and I would not have finished Gifted Trust if the entire book was centered solely around this first person perspective. Fortunately, the serial killer's portion is only about a third of this novel.

The prose in Gifted Trust is even-handed and straightforward, neither condoning nor moralizing on the actions of any of the characters, but rather exploring the main character's motivations across his three lifetimes. That's correct, three lifetimes, for Gifted Trust follows one man's soul as he struggles with a parasitic entity that calls itself Virago and has wormed its way into his soul's composition. Virago seeks to corrupt him in each lifetime, and it is this very personal demon that nudges and cajoles him into one lifetime of unremorseful serial killing, another of torturous impulses, and a third where he seeks therapy and closure.

With a plot that travels from Dallas during the Great Depression to modern-day Quinley, Texas, Gifted Trust toys with both self-referential storylines and the reader's sense of empathy to maximum effect. I found myself unable to put it down once I had reached the final third of the book, white-knuckling it through to the very last few pages.

I did enjoy this book and I look forward to John Paul Allen's next novel, mainly because it will most likely be a sequel to this book. He approached a difficult and tangled plot, worked it into a convincing and shocking narrative, and concluded with a powerful and unexpected twist over the last few pages. As a horror novel it succeeded in keeping me awake, unable to set it aside, long after I should have been asleep. As a meditation on personal accountability and self-discipline it led me to contemplate the effects my decisions can have on the development and the lives of those around me. Gifted Trust certainly stands as the most unique treatment of reincarnation I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

[Wes Unruh]

Visit the Official Web site of Gifted Trust and John Paul Allen