“Are there no nice people in this book?” this reviewer wondered, even as she avidly turned the pages of Kimberla Lawson Roby’s latest novel. The novel’s subtitle asks, “Does Alicia, daughter of the Reverend Curtis Black, finally have the perfect life?” and the answer is a definite “no.” She thinks she does, however. Alicia has married the up-and-coming pastor JT Valentine against the wishes of her famous zillionaire father—a character who resembles real-life megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes.

Alicia loves JT and he actually loves her, and since she’s been a spoiled rotten princess all her life, JT is prepared to spoil her some more. The thing is, both of them are people to whom a decent person would give a wide berth. A budding novelist who finally uses her dad’s literary agent when no one else will take her on (and gets a big fat advance to boot!), Alicia displays greed and shallowness that would have been repugnant even in the go-go ’80s. JT’s wickedness is breathtaking; he is a flat-out, hairy-hearted sociopath. Convinced that God is ever on his side, he sees no problem with cheating on his wife with one woman after another. He lies to his women, to his wife, to his business partners. He lies when he doesn’t have to lie. Basically, he lies to everyone about everything—all the time. Fortunately, one of his women, a minx named Carmen, is as crazy and evil as he is. But unlike JT, she’s patient.

Roby’s characters may not be admirable, but they cause the same chill and fascination you’d feel if you came across a den of rattlesnakes. A skilled writer, Roby knows just how to keep readers hooked; you know that somebody has to get their comeuppance, and you hope the very first somebody is JT. After him, whatever happens to the other miscreants in this tale will be icing on the cake. When the hammer finally comes down, it’s not quite as satisfying as the reader would like—there are no gruesome deaths or Shakespearean piles of vile bodies—but it’s enough.

Be Careful What You Pray For is an irresistibly nasty work.

Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.

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