1783 Hooked from the start

Blood Atonement
by S.M. Freedman

Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2022
$22.95 / 9781459750241

Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn


S.M. Freedman‘s Blood Atonement is shocking and thrilling, terrifying from the moment you realize the broad accuracy of the events it describes the aftermath of. And of course, this is a situation where it pays to pay attention. Numerous details on every page are intrinsic to the plot of the novel, and some can easily slide past your eyes and hide in the ink in the rush towards the end.

Blood Atonement concerns the aftermath of an event that struck a tiny chord of remembrance in me when I first read the synopsis. Here in British Columbia, there is a town called Bountiful. From the research I’ve done, it’s not a true town, but it’s simplest to call it that. It was in Bountiful that a Canadian offshoot of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints set up a compound and began practising their beliefs. These beliefs included many horrible things, most of which happened to women and children. I suggest watching one of the documentaries on the subject — I watched Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (2022) on Netflix, but there are others you can find with a Google search to give you a better idea of what truly happened to people who grew up in or escaped from those communities. The documentaries are mostly about the groups of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah, Arizona, and Texas, but the activities sound very similar to what is described and hinted at in Blood Atonement.

Vancouver writer S.M. Freedman on a book tour

The intrigue and mystery in this novel hooked me from the start. I was enthralled with following the main character, Grace DeRoche, as she struggles with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and attempts to find the person who is slowly killing all the survivors from the church’s fictitious compound at Brigham. The twists and turns are shocking — I was on the edge of my seat. It is easy to sense the tension, too. Whenever the pressure mounts, Grace finds herself struggling against her reality, desperate to stay in control and avoid an episode of DID. Sometimes she succeeds, while at other times her DID identities come out so quickly that she doesn’t have time to resist. Her disorder adds another level of terror to Grace’s life and makes it harder for her to continue her investigation into what happened to the Brigham survivors.

The second point of view character has moments of overlap with Grace while for the most part operating separately. Detective Beau Brunelli is a police officer hell-bent on finding the truth about Grace and about the Brigham survivors. Though these have been passed off as suicides and accidents, Beau believes otherwise. He knows that Grace, as one of the survivors, is certain to be involved. But how? His investigation will take him further than he ever suspected and reveal truths that will shock everyone. Beau’s point of view takes the reader out of Grace’s head and lays out the facts, regardless of the opinions of Grace or the police department. Beau himself isn’t unbiased, but he encapsulates what it means to be a detective, always searching for the real, full truth.

I enjoyed Blood Atonement immensely. It is a flawless story of surviving atrocities and the powerful effects they have on the rest of one’s life. All the characters are built with high attention to detail, from those with the least page-time to Grace and Beau, the detective who will not stop until he finds the thread linking all the tragedies together. S.M. Freedman is a master weaver, and it shows in every twisted thread of this book.

I cannot recommend Blood Atonement highly enough. But please, look up the content warnings before heading in and make sure it isn’t going to be too much. A lot of horrifying things happen, and they only build as Grace’s flashbacks continue throughout the novel. You might also note that the documentaries mentioned above might require a search for content warnings.

As with all reviews of thrillers and mysteries, I don’t want to say too much in order to preserve the reading experience. I will suggest doing a bit of research into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in order to understand what they believe and how similar the tragedies in Blood Atonement are to what happened in real life — but honestly, you don’t need to do much background reading to enjoy the thrill that this book brings to the table. It stands completely on its own.

As with my earlier review of Freedman’s The Day She Died (2021), Blood Atonement devoured me so completely that I can’t wait to read more from this author.

S.M. Freedman at launch of Blood Atonement, October 2022, Massy Arts Society, Vancouver, with (L-R) A.J. Devlin and J.T. Siemens. Photo courtesy S.M. Freedman


Myshara Herbert-McMyn

Myshara Herbert-McMyn is a book reviewer and aspiring writer living in Kelowna. She runs the blog Lit&Leta. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Thompson Rivers University. Editor’s note: Myshara Herbert-McMyn has recently reviewed books by Tiana Warner, Brooke CarterBecky ParisottoSara DesaiTara Moss, and Sonya Lalli for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Publisher and editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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