Reading guide for The Crowning Circle by J.R. Lankford

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The Crowning Circle

A Mystery Thriller

By J.R. Lankford

The Crowning Circle
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  • Paperback: Feb 2001,
    385 pages.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

These discussion questions are intended to help your group explore the underlying themes of The Crowning Circle, a suspense/thriller which examines friendship, love, group identity, how our needs for love and belonging drive us, and what happens when they aren't fulfilled.

  1. Skeet Cullum, the forensic psychologist in The Crowning Circle, has non-standard theories about death, which have appeared in fiction before. Near the end of ch.2 of Women in Love, D. H. Lawrence wrote:
    "No man" said Birkin "cuts another man's throat unless. . .the other man wants it cutting. . . It takes two people to make a murder: a murderer and a murderee. And a murderee is a man who. . .in a profound and hidden lust desires to be murdered."
    Discuss your opinion of this theory. How did it affect your reaction to Skeet in the novel? Skeet also believes the personality survives death. What is your opinion?

  2. Jake was a steadfast character in the novel. Do you think his behavior was reasonable? Do you think Jake had an additional and unacknowledged motive for wanting to help Skeet solve the crimes? If so, what was it?

  3. Discuss which male character you liked best and why. How did they conform with or deviate from societal models of male behavior?

  4. The Crowning Circle was written primarily from the alternating perspectives of Skeet Cullum and Jake Morrison. What did this permit the author to achieve in terms of suspense at key points in the story?

  5. When Skeet left Jake's house from their Thursday night jam session in Chapter 7, the impetus for everything that would occur later in the novel had already been set up. To what extent do you believe real-life events flow from: 1) personality 2) personal intention and/or 3) past events?

  6. Skeet and Asgard shared an unfulfilled desire for parental approval. Discuss how it motivated them and enhanced or warped their lives. Asgard's parents hated him. Skeet's loved him. How do you believe this altered their response? Do you see an underlying message in their final encounter?

  7. Skeet is black, Jake is white, Shirley is Afro-Amerasian, Gabril's heritage is Basque and American, Half-Jackson is part Norwegian and part American Indian. What do you think the author's intention was in depicting such a diverse group? Discuss how it affected your experience of the novel. All Americans are in some way cut off from a former heritage. What are the various strategies Americans have adopted in response?

  8. Though Skeet Cullum and Jake Morrison are two friends of different race, their racial identity and related issues were not of primary concern to them. Does this correspond with or differ from your life experience?

  9. In Vietnam, the bui doi (dust of life) were mostly children of American soldiers and some (though not most) of their mothers had been prostitutes. In 1988, thirteen years after the war ended, 70,000 came to the U.S. under the Orderly Departure Program but untold numbers remained, ostracized at the bottom rung of society and often abandoned by their mothers. Given the tragedy and destruction the Vietnam war caused, are you surprised that the Vietnamese would so severely reject the bui doi? In what way is the author implying that prejudice is linked to fear? Though Shirley wasn't born in Vietnam, she encounters the residue of this prejudice. Discuss her response to it. In her shoes, how would you proceed?

  10. When he lost his job, James Hampton moved his nuclear family from England to America. Multiple generations of a family once lived near each other in the same location throughout life. If your family has been exposed to long-distance relocations discuss its challenges.

  11. Jake falls nearly instantly in love with Gabril. He has never noticed Cynthia, his chief engineer, who is less physically attractive but with whom he seems to have more in common. Does this reflect real life? Do you believe Jake and Gabril's attraction is real?

  12. Karen Goodman, one of the murder victims, stayed married to a man she didn't love out of a sense of duty, yet she cheated on him with a man she did love. How would you resolve a conflict between a heart-felt obligation and true love?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Xlibris. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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