Professor Joe Carroll’s disciple, Jordy Raines, is playing the part he was given by his leader and has killed nine coeds in a sorority house. The murders were carried out Carroll style, with the symbolic mutilation of the young women’s eyes. The FBI and police are at the crime scene and know that Carroll is behind the whole thing.
The team of agents is also looking for young Joey Matthews and a new agent, Debra Parker has joined the team, replacing Agent Mason, who’s been sent back to Quantico. Parker is an expert in “alternative religions” or cults, a word she doesn’t want to use for Carroll and his followers, but finally accepts as fact. The investigative team has been looking into the backgrounds of the “nanny”, Emma, and the fake gay couple, Jake and Paul. In flashbacks we find out that Emma was infatuated with Carroll, and met him at one his book signings. Her mother was with her at the signing and fawned all over Carroll. Joe, however, was much more interested in young Emma, and signed her book with “To Emma, Hopefully yours, Joe.” He also told her that she had “lovely eyes”. Of course he did.
As time went on, Emma continued her worship of Carroll and visited him in prison, even after he had killed all those other college students and was sentenced to death. He even found her a boyfriend – Jake, another socially awkward and strange character. Emma and Jake took to each other immediately and Emma invited her new love to her mother’s house for dinner. When her mother begins to mock her in front of Jake, Emma stabs and kills her. Paul is added to the trio and they began to move into their roles in Carroll’s plan and into the lives of Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire and their son, Joey. Now, however, as they are putting their part of the plan in motion, by kidnapping Joey, the threesome isn’t getting along. Emma and Jake view Paul as a third wheel and Paul thinks that Emma is beneath Jake. Something’s definitely off with Paul. I don’t know what it is yet, but he’s weird, even weirder than the rest of the following, if that’s possible.
At the same time as Emma’s and Jake’s romance began, Agent Ryan Hardy and Claire fell in love, something that Carroll is very interested in knowing about. When Claire goes to see Joe in his holding cell to appeal to him for the whereabouts of Joey, all Carroll wants to hear is the details of their romance and sex life. Claire becomes angry and frustrated with his intrusive and sickening questions, and attacks him.
The FBI found that Emma wasn’t who she said she was when she became Joey’s nanny and locate her house from years ago. Once Hardy enters the abandoned home, he sees that it had been used for the followers’ meetings. Every square inch of wall space is covered with photographs of Edgar Allan Poe, scrawlings of his writings, a row of masks with his image and painted pictures of eyes – lots of eyes. One of the masks isn’t empty though and a new follower, Rick, attacks Hardy, and before he knocks him out, warns Hardy that he’s going to die. Rick escapes. When Hardy recovers and the other agents find him, they discover that there’s more to be unearthed at the house. While searching the rooms, Hardy bangs on a wall which crumbles, revealing the decomposed body of Emma’s mother – a scene straight out of “The Black Cat” and “The Cask of Amontillado”. This is when Agent Parker determines that Carroll and his group are, indeed, a cult. Poe is their god, the author of their “bible”. Carroll is the spiritual leader and messenger of Poe’s words, and the followers, given Carroll’s interpretation of the stories and poems, listen and obey, unquestioning – chapter and verse. Even the kidnapping of Joey means something different to the followers. Joey is, at least to them, the son of god, and the FBI think he is meant either to be worshiped or sacrificed.
The agents also find several sets of crudely drawn blueprints – most of them are for Sarah Fuller’s house, but Hardy notices that one of them is for Claire’s basement. By the time the agents arrive back at Claire’s house, the cop who was protecting her room has been killed by Jordy Raines and is holding Claire at gunpoint. Raines tells Hardy that he’s been waiting to see him, that Carroll has made this part of the book the Jordy Raines chapter. While Raines vacillates about whether to kill Claire or not, Hardy, thanks to the gun tucked in his back by another agent, shoots the follower.
Hardy goes to see Carroll and the two of them talk about what the master plan is supposed to be, if Carroll has an endgame. Carroll tells Hardy that this chapter was meant to show the agent as the victorious hero who saves his beloved by killing her captor. When Hardy tells Carroll that he didn’t kill Raines, Carroll expresses his disappointment with Raines’ weakness. He isn’t terribly worried about the rest of his desired sequel, though, because the challenge is worth it. No good mystery is easy plot out and write, and that’s what makes it so interesting. And besides, there’s plenty of followers and more chapters to write.
In the closing scene, a follower, perhaps Rick, dressed as Poe, crosses a street, douses a man at a hot dog stand with gasoline and sets him on fire. I’m not so sure that Rick is really one of Carroll’s followers, at least not one Carroll controls or even knows about. He seems more like one of those crime groupies who wants in on the action to get some attention from the police and the cult leader – a copycat. This is the first killing by fire, not that Poe didn’t write a story where fire was the cause of death. Carroll, though, is obsessed with the stories where the eyes of the victims are important and the weapons are usually knives. I don’t think he’d care much for a poser. I guess we’ll see.