Mark Sullivan

The Purification Ceremony

At a young age in the Maine woods, Diana Jackman learned to move freely in the wilderness, to sense a world invisible to most. A natural tracker from a long line of hunters, she has been taught by betrayal and loss to guard her feelings behind a wall of half truths and silence. It has cost her many things: her family, her happiness, her peace. And it has brought her to a beautiful, frozen place of magic… and death.

Eight hunters have gathered on a vast, isolated estate in northern British Columbia, to track record book whitetail deer. Diana Jackman is among them, hoping to find the self she has somehow lost.

But someone else is in the woods – an insane and violent force of nature.

One by one, the hunters are stalked and murdered. The killer is quick, relentless, frightening efficient. And he knows his quarry: what they think, what they feel … what they fear. The madman has a passion and a purpose. And he will not rest until he achieves his one great goal: to purify the hunt by killing them all.

To survive, Diana will have to face her past, resurrect skills she learned as a child and set out alone to hunt the hunter.

“Outstanding. A real old-fashioned thriller.”
-Los Angeles Times

“Superbly written. A remarkable book.”
-London Literary Review
Back in the mid 1990s, I spent two weeks in Maine researching a story for Yankee Magazine about the evolving culture of whitetail deer hunting.

The reporting brought me in touch with Micmac and Pennobscot Indians who still observed the rituals of northern woodland native hunters. And I got to spend six days tracking deer at remote Munsungan Lake, staying in a rustic lodge called the Bradford Camps. There was a dock where float planes landed guests and a series of log cabins along the lakeshore.

Among other incidents, the Yankee Magazine story touched on a horrible accident that had occurred in Maine. In her backyard near Bangor, a woman went out to hang up laundry. It was chilly and she wore white wool mittens. A hunter who had just jumped a big buck in the woods behind her house, claimed he saw the deer's flag and shot at it. He killed the woman. A jury cleared him of wrong-doing.

Like a lot of ethical hunters, I was outraged at the verdict and said so in the article. I thought the hunter should have gone to jail. I'd been a hunter since the age of ten and the first thing my father taught me was to make sure you know exactly what you're shooting at before you put your finger anywhere near the trigger.

A reporter friend of mine read the piece and asked me if I'd ever thought of writing a novel about hunting. I shrugged and said, "Who'd want to read it?"

Then a few months later, my late brother, who was a weekend hunter at best, said, “You know what your problem is? With you hunting is a goddamned religion."

My initial response was, "Well, not really."

But the comment triggered something in my writer's brain and I started thinking about everything I'd seen in Maine as well as the idea of a religion based on deer hunting. I spent a few days at the wonderful Native American library at Dartmouth University and discovered the Huichol culture of the Sierra Madres in Mexico. The Huichol worship deer as a god and peyote use as a way of communicating with the divine.

At the same time, I became more fascinated with the Micmac, a hunting culture that once stretched from northern Maine well north into the Canadian Maritimes. The Micmac were as mystical as the Huichol without the use of hallucinogenics. Their metaphysics held that all things animate and inanimate are composed of an underlying construct they called "power."

As it often happens when I'm on the verge of birthing a story, a question began to nag at me: What would happen if a religion based on hunting turned fanatical?

Now my noggin was really whirling. One of my favorite short stories from childhood was "The Most Dangerous Game," by Richard Connell. The premise is that a trophy hunter named Rainsford falls off a yacht in the Carribean and ends up on an island owned by the mysterious General Zaroff, a hunter also, who has hunted everything but man.

Playing off that theme, I came up with the idea of a group of deer hunters who fly by float plane into the remote and massive Metcalf estate in British Columbia, hard by the border of Alberta. Among the hunters is Diana Jackman, a woman of Micmac and Pennobscot descent and expert deer tracker. A series of brutal storms hits begins the night before the opening day of hunting season. When one of the guides is killed, it becomes apparent that someone is using classical deer hunting techniques to hunt the deer hunters.

I knew tracking had to be an integral part of the story, a way of allowing the reader insight into the mind of someone raised in a Native American hunting culture. Luckily I had been tracking deer since I was a teenager, but I was not an expert in the way Diana had to be for the novel to work.

So I began to read everything I could on deer tracking, including the seminal works by Larry Benoit. Then I spent weeks in the deep forests of Maine, Vermont and northwest Montana, honing my skills so Diana's would be convincing.

That winter Diana Jackman began to talk to me and I started writing down her every word.