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Seductive Poison

A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple
Narrated by: Kathe Mazur, Deborah Layton
Length: 15 hrs and 13 mins
5 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Told by a former high-level member of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown survivor, Seductive Poison is the "truly unforgettable" (Kirkus Reviews) story of how one woman was seduced by one of the most notorious cults in recent memory and how she found her way back to sanity. 

From Waco to Heaven's Gate, the late 20th century saw its share of cult tragedies. But none was quite so dramatic or compelling as the Jonestown massacre of 1978, in which the Reverend Jim Jones and 913 of his disciples perished. Deborah Layton had been a member of the Peoples Temple for seven years when she departed for Jonestown, Guyana, the promised land nestled deep in the South American jungle. 

When she arrived, however, Layton saw that something was seriously wrong. Jones constantly spoke of a revolutionary mass suicide, and Layton knew only too well that he had enough control over the minds of the Jonestown residents to carry it out. But her pleas for help - and her sworn affidavit to the US government - fell on skeptical ears. 

In this very personal account, Layton opens up the shadowy world of cults and shows how anyone can fall under their spell. Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.

©1999 Deborah Layton (P)2013 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A suspenseful tale of escape that reads like a satisfying thriller, Layton's account is the most important personal testimony to emerge from the Jonestown tragedy." (The Chicago Tribune)

"A fascinating account of a debacle that continues to resonate." (Entertainment Weekly)

 "Shattering." (The Boston Globe)

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Profile Image for Daryl
  • Daryl
  • 16-04-2015

Brilliant, Haunting, Chilling

Would you listen to Seductive Poison again? Why?

Definitely! For years I have been curious about Jonestown - more about the people who followed Jim Jones to their deaths than about the man himself. A couple of years back I read Julia Scheeres' "A Thousand Lives" (a brilliant book in its own right), a thorough journalistic look at Jones and his followers. Deborah Layton laid herself bare in "Seductive Poison," detailing how she herself got drawn in to Jones' orbit, her rise to power in Peoples' Temple, her disillusion, escape, and putting her life back together.

I must also say that Kathe Mazur's performance was superb! Her depiction of Jones - in either his caring or brutal persona - was chilling and believable. Deborah's fear, sorrow, and fumbling are portrayed realistically.

What other book might you compare Seductive Poison to and why?

it is a great companion piece to "A Thousand Lives". ATL is more journalistic and deals more with the suicides themselves; "Seductive Poison" is more personal, about one woman's own journey of self-discovery and deprogramming. But these together and you have a comprehensive look at Jonestown!

What does Kathe Mazur bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Her performance was superb here and turned a great memoir into a terrific audiobook

Any additional comments?

If you have any interest in Jonestown specifically, or indoctrination in general, or if you like to read about resilience against impossible odds, read this book!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Ralphy Novotney
  • 02-01-2015

This Book Kept My Attention For 14Hrs Straight!!!

Has Seductive Poison turned you off from other books in this genre?

No. Not at all. I loved it completely. But it wasn't just the story. It was just a very good quality book.
Not even a world class seminar could hold my attention for fourteen whole hours!!! I mean, like...C'mon now?

What didn’t you like about Kathe Mazur’s performance?

Kathe Mazur's performance was sssssooooo incredible!!! I couldn't believe that she WASN'T the author of the book. She'd totally embraced every single nuance of the protagonist's experience. Great job Kathe!!!

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

This book is for anyone who thinks that it could (being swept up in a cult...even for just a few Sundays) NEVER happen to them. In this case, the author was entangled in this (Jim Jones) cult/culture for over five years. We're talking seven days a week; practically twenty+ hours a day!!! That's commitment. How sad that it was so full of deception and criminal activity.

One thing that this book has proven to me for sure is that: Jim Jones had pretty much duplicated himself through the naivete of his followers. He kept his own filthy hands out almost every dirty deed that was done (baring all his sexual assaults). It amazes me how much one man could've spent so much time under the proverbial radar, and leave the country with over nine-hundred members in tow; temporarily unscathed .

Any additional comments?

When I review all the things this woman went through...And all the things that she's put herself through, it causes me to pale in comparison when I think of just how LITTLE I actually contribute to my own organization. And it's not even a cult.

This book was definitely an eye opener for me: this book has "revolutionized" the very core of my ho-hum church life.

What a courageous woman!!!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • M.
  • 06-10-2016

Self-Analysis on why "Normal" People Join Cults

If you could sum up Seductive Poison in three words, what would they be?

Self-Analysis, Juicy, Sobering

Who was your favorite character and why?

It's a first person narrative of a member of Jim Jones's cult, so the word "favorite" is a bit odd. Her insights into Jim himself are compelling--I've listened to quite a good number of cult books and it is clear that he didn't believe what he was peddling. He was hungry for power.

Have you listened to any of Kathe Mazur’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but she was a great narrator.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes! It was a perfect combination of colorful details and sobering self-analysis.

Any additional comments?

WARNING: Book contains scenes of rape; descriptions are necessary to the book's core, but do keep this in mind

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Marian
  • 21-04-2014

One of the best books I have listened !

Would you consider the audio edition of Seductive Poison to be better than the print version?

No

Who was your favorite character and why?

Debbie of course

Which scene was your favorite?

When she's trying to escape people's temple , so heart stopping !

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Definitely

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Veruka
  • 12-03-2014

Madness Utter Madness

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes I would recommend this audiobook. I would recommend it for the purpose of enlightening any individual that is skeptical of the influence of mad men. I suppose there are many examples of people who in history have brainwashed whole congregations and still do to this day.

What did you like best about this story?

The inside view of Jim Jones ability to brainwash his following under the guise of helping the downtrodden. Not only that the political clout he managed to pull is frightening.

Have you listened to any of Kathe Mazur’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Just a sense of awe that this happened in America, very sad for all the people that did not escape.

Any additional comments?

The reader did a great job.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sebastian
  • 24-01-2014

A memoir that grips and thrills!

A story of innocence, courage & a strong sense of ‘Self’ triumphing over evil...

My book group read Layton's affecting memoir a while ago. It was compelling then but with this remarkable new audio version what I missed while reading is made far more real and powerful.

Hearing the author read her open the recording transported me immediately into the story. Although most is narrated by the wonderful Kathe Mazur, the author’s voice set the tone, creating a haunting sense of urgency.

Filled with innocent yearnings, Layton's gradual realization that she was used and misled and might die for her naiveté propels this story into its heart pounding, edge of your seat escape.

In the end, our seemingly unsophisticated protagonist outwits the warped megalomaniacal psychopath in the jungle and wins her freedom, though at a terrible cost

Layton’s lovely voice returns to read her last two chapters. Unlike the book, the Audible version has a new Afterword which brings the story full circle.

An honest, beautifully written & Essential Audible Listen.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Em
  • 27-09-2017

Rare book I listened to twice!

This was a fascinating book with beautiful narration. Debbie Layton tells the story of her early indoctrination into the People's Temple cult and her rise through the ranks, relationship with Jim Jones and her eventual nail-biting escape and whistle-blowing efforts with the US government.

One of the things I loved first about her story is that she wrote it after she'd clearly spent a lot of time thinking deeply about all of the things that led her and 1000 other people into following Jim Jones, and the complicated reasons she stayed with him after the racially diverse, happily integrated and supportive church revealed itself to be a megalomaniac driven cult. She does such a good job painting the picture of the national emotional tenor of the 1960's and 70's, the relationships she had with her parents and friends, the mindset of a teenager, the needs human beings have for being seen and appreciated and taking part in something they believe to be special and important - that I actually found myself understanding why the People's Temple was such a strong draw for her and others. The church they joined was not a cult to their eyes, not at first - and Jim Jones really was progressive in his early messages of racial unity, and because of this he really did seem to have the answers for how people could live together and help each other positively.

Of course things eventually fall apart. Jim Jones had people signing homes and social security checks over to him. Demands on church members grew and grew. All of that still seemed necessary at first, as there were so many good works in progress and actual facilities for elderly people being erected and lived in. People kept giving of their time and work and money. Just when things reached a point in church demands where a reasonable person would start to feel resentment and question the motives of the person taking their money, Jim Jones carefully constructed a series of fake attacks that created a common enemy of the church that threatened their unity and happiness. In reality, it was Jones' theft and growing sexual abuse of church members and essentially creating an unpaid labor camp that was destroying the church, but he did such a good job constructing the visions of evil enemies standing right outside their doors, "the CIA" threatening them, an uncaring society misunderstanding them, a government jealously salivating after their financial reserves - that everyone banded even tighter together to fight side by side against these threats. This allows Jim Jones (the real enemy) to continue quietly abusing his power and his congregation, unchallenged.

The insider view of Debbie Layton is really mesmerizing. To a point, her internal reactions are so understandable that for the first time I really "got" why people end up in cults. Her story continues as she's in her 20's and moving up through the ranks, paranoia slowly intensifying in the cult until it controls everyone's every action. Her life goes from one of feeling useful and special to feeling constantly afraid for herself, her family and her life. By the time she wakes up to the realities of her situation, she's in too deep to easily run for it - everyone is a secret informant, no one can be trusted, everyone fears for their lives, Jim Jones convinces them there are armed enemies waiting for them in the bushes if they were to try to leave, plus he has literal armed guards pointing guns at cult members 'for their own safety'. The chapters where Debbie Layton plots an escape and executes it - no thanks to the bumbling, clueless American diplomats in Guyana - were so harrowing I was stressed the entire time I was listening to it.

The massacre just a few weeks after her escape is written as she imagines it. It's heartbreaking. She knew (and in the book humanized) so many of the people who drank the poison, or were injected forcibly when they tried to choose to live. The aftermath, the way she felt and was treated, the way she tried to put her life back together and the lessons she'd learned - these chapters were so necessary for this book. She ends it with some pretty powerful lessons learned and some insight into current cults (The L Ron Hubbard cult was one of Jim Jone's models for his own). It's really a fantastic, well written, well thought out account of life in a cult and the Jonestown massacre.

The narration was stunning - you can hear it in the sample, but the voice actor also does a fantastic job with different voices, accents and intonations. Her Jim Jones voice was dead on the money, I was startled to find (after watching documentaries and listening to tapes of his speeches) - whoa. Highly recommend this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • 6catz
  • 03-01-2017

Gripping

Any additional comments?

Hard to believe that so much suspense could be generated by a book that tells a story that is known so well. We all know how it ends, as we all knew what happened at Little Big Horn and on the Titanic. Yet Deborah Layton's first hand telling of the tale breathes life into the lurid headlines and puts a face, so many faces to the victims of this horrendous tragedy. Touching and chilling, "Seductive Poison" is a true cautionary tale that reads like a thriller. A must-read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sara
  • 15-01-2016

A whole look at the Jonestown nightmare

There aren't many first-hand accounts of what life was like in Jonestown so this book is much more than a a memoir but a portal that takes us to the everyday life of a people and way of life that faded away in just one afternoon. With that said, this book is haunting in its details. Even for those who frequently read "true crime" books or the like may struggle to finish this book, I know I did...
The author takes very hard looks at Jim Jones, cult madness and herself/ mother in an attempt to explain how something like this did happen. I do recommend but beware it's a gripping and heartbreaking story that will stay with you like it or not.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Suzie
  • 09-09-2015

Insight I needed

I have questioned for years how it would be possible for someone to fall into the grasp of a cult. I've secretly always believed that I could see myself being swooped into one if the conditions were "right." I now know after hearing the words of one who was lucky on all levels to have survived that I was right in my secret. Anyone could fall prey to a monster when he first appears to be the only one who can understand you.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • ania
  • 24-06-2018

Very insightful

This book is a very insightful and self-critical account of life in a sect. Also, despite its lenght, very involving.

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  • Ruthie76
  • 26-10-2017

Haunting

Bought on audible. I was transfixed from the get go. A lesson for us all. So sad.

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  • Suzy
  • 26-03-2017

Honest memoir

It's hard to review someone's personal experience. Overall I enjoyed the book as it gave a personal account of what the author experienced when she was a troubled teen, looking for help and was introduced to a church by her brother. I found the narrative slow to start but gripping later. What spoilt it a little for me was the introduction which tells the reader what happens at the end. Although I knew a little of the history this revealed a lot of details I didn't know. I would rather have read the memoir and then have a commentary filling in the details. Also there wasn't any attempt to analyse what happened, it is simply one person telling her story which I think made it more powerful for me.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris Cullen
  • 02-08-2016

Stunning!

Truly harrowing in places. This account of Layton's experiences left me aghast at how easily we can be mislead and betray our friends and family.