Catherine Mckenzie’s suspense novel Please Join Us takes the reader into the life of lawyer Nicole Muller. At 39, she has sacrificed a great deal for her career, but after losing a major client, one of the firm’s senior partners delivers a warning that her billing hours must soar or she’s out the door. With depressing speed, the news ricochets around the office. Minor law firms suddenly know that Nicole is on her way down and send recruitment emails. But right at the same time, she receives a cryptic invitation also via email inviting her to join an exclusive club, Panthera Leo for women. Dan, Nicole’s husband advises against the trip and, evoking the example of NXIVM suggests that Panthera Leo may be a cult.
Nicole, thinking that there’s nothing to lose, takes the bait, and then she’s off to attend a Panthera Leo retreat in Colorado. Always with these sorts of scenarios there’s a slippery slope. Is it when Nicole signs over 5K to attend the retreat? Is it when she’s told to hand over her cell phone for 5 days? Or is it when the two female leaders: Karma and Michelle, chant phrases that must be chanted back, over an open campfire?
Nicole identifies with the Pathera Leo spiel and list of grievances:
Putting men charge of women’s companies is one of our specialties. Diversity this and diversity that and sensitivity training and you know what’s changed? Exactly nothing, that’s what. If you have a vagina then you’re handicapped. God forbid if you have a kid or show an emotion at work.
Post retreat, everything in Nicole’s life goes swimmingly …. until it doesn’t. I had never heard of NXIVM and so dug up that name. Even watched a documentary about it. After that, I found the plot much easier to accept. Not that this book is about NXIVM.
I have read Catherine Mckenzie before and while this is not my favourite book of hers to date, I enjoyed parts of it. Initially I had problems accepting that Nicole, who seems hard boiled, would succumb to the Panthera Leo pitch, but she does. I couldn’t quite align Nicole’s narrative voice with the character. Plus Nicole is not an appealing character, and that goes for most of the characters in the book. I was interested in Nicole’s initial plight but after she drank the Kool-Aid, well… not as much.