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Book review of ‘The Vicious Circle’ by Katherine St. John

Katherine St. John is a pro at crafting escapist thrillers: Her often gorgeous protagonists find themselves in remote settings, surrounded by people they’re not sure they can trust. It all makes for loads of nail-biting suspense as said protagonists realize they’d better figure out how to, well, escape before something truly terrible happens. 

Fans of her previous books, The Lion’s Den and The Siren, will devour St. John’s latest, The Vicious Circle, which conjures up that same life-or-death urgency amid opulence. This time, the setting is a wellness center named Xanadu, deep in the Mexican jungle. The luxurious compound offers much fodder for suspicion. (The bedrooms have no doors? What’s with all the chanting?) It also serves as the locus for St. John’s exploration of shared beliefs-turned-toxic groupthink and the fuzzy line between enigmatic mysticism and subtle manipulation. 

Former model Sveta Bentzen is shocked to learn that her estranged uncle, the famous self-help guru and Xanadu founder Paul Sayres, left his entire estate to her instead of his wife, Kali. All her life, Sveta has felt that she’s not enough, either for her loving but distant mother or her wealthy fiancé’s influential and scornful family. When she learns of her uncle’s death, she grieves the relationship they didn’t have and is determined to make the long, treacherous journey to Xanadu for the memorial service Kali will host there. Sveta’s confidence falters when lawyer (and handsome former flame) Lucas joins the trip, but she perseveres, hoping to reach an understanding with Kali while Lucas handles the finances. The Xanadu residents welcome them, but Sveta suspects that hostility may lurk beneath Kali’s serenity—and that the circumstances of her uncle’s death may have been misrepresented, too.

Fans of “The White Lotus’ and Nine Perfect Strangers will relish Sveta’s race to find a way to escape Xanadu before it’s too late. Her hard-won journey to realizing her self-worth is as compelling as it is deliciously ironic: Who knew all you had to do to win confidence, love and inner peace is escape a creepy wellness center?

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