Baal begins with an act of violence.
In the late 60s, a woman is raped in an alley by a stranger whose touch burns her skin. Nine months later, Jeffrey Harper Raines is born. The woman’s husband fears the baby and tries to drown him, just to be stopped and murdered by Jeffrey’s mother.
Jeffrey is sent to a Catholic orphanage, where he proves himself to be an intelligent and troubled child, the type who can not only mentally control all of the other children but also inspire them to go on a rebellious and destructive rampage.
Years later, a mysterious cult leader named Baal has emerged, first in California and then eventually in Kuwait. His followers come from all walks of life and they include some of the wealthiest men on the planet. A researcher tries to gain access to Baal’s cult and promptly disappears. The researcher’s mentor, an elderly theologian named Dr. Virga, goes to Kuwait in search of his protegé.
What he discovers is that Baal is not only extremely dangerous but that his followers are willing to do anything that he orders them to do. Fortunately, Virga does find one ally out in the desert — a mysterious man named Michael….
(I guess it was Gabriel’s week off.)
Baal was first published way back in 1978 and reading it, it’s obvious that the novel was heavily influenced by films like The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby. In fact, it’s so derivative of those films that it’s impossible not to get kinda annoyed at not only how predictable the story is but also at the fact that it takes the people in the book so much longer to figure out what the reader realizes immediately. You really do have to wonder if a cult leader couldn’t have perhaps come up with a name other than Baal. I mean, that’s kind of like naming yourself Lou C. Ifer or something like that. You’re just giving the game away.
Today, Baal is best known for being the debut novel of Robert R. McCammon. McCammon was only 25 years old when he wrote and published Baal and most of the book’s problems — the lack of focus, the occasionally clumsy plot twists– are problems that many debut novels seem to have in common. For quite some time, McCammon refused to allow Baal to be republished, saying that he felt it was inferior to his later historical and crime novels. For the record, McCammon’s correct about that but Baal still has enough trashy and sordid moments to be occasionally entertaining. I guess my point here is that Baal isn’t great and, at times, it’s barely good but it’s still better than Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff.