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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 Seductive Poison is both an unflinching historical document and a riveting story of intrigue, power, and murder.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

What the critics say

"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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What listeners say about Seductive Poison

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Riveting

This book kept me enthralled from beginning to end.
Most documentaries on the subject of Jonestown are clinical and impersonal. This was her story of how she was lured in and how the blinders fell away.
During her escape I could feel her paranoia. It was palpable and almost contagious.
Kudos to her and all people that have escaped from cults.
A must listen to all that want to know more about Jonestown or cultist mindsets.

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Why isn't there a Movie

Such an important story for today. I assumed Jim Jones was a doomsday Christian cult leader. Never realized he was actually a Socialist Utopian. This is why history is so important because it can show the recurring patterns of human behavior
that aren't just a result of a given culture but rather largely due to our human nature itself. If we knew enough history than alarm bells should go off in our heads when ever anyone believes they can point their finger at others for all the problems of the world and that they can make the world such a better place if they got the chance. It truly warps the mind when someone begins to perceive the world in this manner. There are multiple millions of people today walking around with this kind of warped perception who will undoubtedly bring hell on earth if ever given the chance.

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An Eye Opening Look Inside The Peoples Temple

A fascinating book, and the narrator lived up to the story she was telling. Very informative and never a dull moment.

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  • RalphyNovotney
  • 2015-01-02

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!!!

6 people found this helpful

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  • Daryl
  • 2015-04-16

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!

5 people found this helpful

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  • Marian
  • 2014-04-21

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

4 people found this helpful

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  • Em
  • 2017-09-27

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.

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  • M.
  • 2016-10-06

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 people found this helpful

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  • Veruka
  • 2014-03-12

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 people found this helpful

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  • Sebastian
  • 2014-01-24

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.

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  • RRobinR
  • 2019-05-14

heart breaking on so many levels

this book should be part of the high school academia around the world to bear witness to what is possible if you are only seeking and not fully realizing you own worth and value.

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  • E Ruiz
  • 2017-02-20

This book should be a required read In high school

I was in my early 20's when this mass suicide made headlines. I was involved in a group called The Local Church. While they didn't have suicide drills, a lot of the items talked about in this book smack of that group. My dad saw the cover on Time and Newsweek magazines and both called me and came over to speak with me regarding what had happened and to discuss the red flags for cults. The storyline in this book is concise and very 'edge-of-your-seat', eye opening expose. Too bad that it takes some of us so long to really see how groups such as this one try to control your mind and your life. At 61 years old now, and having left The Local Church when I was about 40, I now raise a teenage grandson. I recently quit attending a church group because one of the members kept insisting that my grandson was not acting masculine enough for God's purpose and was most likely having sinful thoughts and would burn in hell if he persisted. She persisted to the point of bringing my grandson to tears and also threatening to bring this before the 'elders'. I have just had it and am fed up with controlling, self righteous bigots who insist on defining everyone else's spiritual life. I have been reading audible's other books on Scientology as well just to remind me of what I need to teach my grandson to avoid. I hope others will spend the time to listen to this book as well to remind us all that if someone is saying"we are the one true answer to life" it's most likely bull.

2 people found this helpful

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  • 6catz
  • 2017-01-03

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 people found this helpful

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  • Oeuf_Plat
  • 2021-05-12

Uncertain story, beautiful performance

Like a coming of age story gone wrong, the beginning of ‘Seductive Poison’ is an introspection into Deborah Layton’s mind, how the cult gave her teenage self the sense of importance she was lacking, and made her believe she could be a part of something meaningful. It starts as an honest and transparent testimony, giving a chilling understanding that it could have very well happened to you, too.

But as the narration progress into the daily life and activities of the cult, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief at the author’s faithful recollection of numerous longs dialogues between multiples people, always matching what she wants the reader/listener to perceive of her. The mysterious “psychic” appearing out of nowhere to warn her before disappearing just a quickly, added to this feeling that we can’t know if her (supposedly) thoughts at the time are true.

However, it still is a survivor story worth listening to, and Kathe Mazur performed it with great talent: sometime intimate, sometime full of angsty trepidation, but always with a lot of emotions and respect for the author’s style.