Allison & Busby | 2017 (16 February) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
Matt Hunter was once a minister but since losing his faith Matt has become a professor of the sociology of religion and is currently writing a book about the invention of gods in human image. To be honest, he’s not getting along that well with it and so he takes refuge instead in the odd job helping the police to solve religiously-motivated crimes.
Wren, Matt’s wife, is an architect and in real danger of redundancy after two of her firm’s three owning partners had fatal heart attacks. But there is a chance for redemption. A church in a beautiful village in Oxfordshire is about to be remodelled and its governing body has picked Wren personally to be one of the candidates for the job. This not only throws Wren a lifeline but also gives Matt and Wren, along with their daughters Lucy and Amelia, a golden opportunity to escape their hellhole of a London street and spend a month in a lovely village on what will be effectively an extended interview. And so the family heads off to Hobbs Hill, the home, incidentally, of Britain’s loudest natural waterfall but, more disturbingly, a place named after the devil.
Hobbs Hill is a town caught in a religious fervour, many of its buildings adorned with crosses, their imagination caught by their charismatic minister who preaches a Christianity based on purging and baptism. Matt is determined to bite his lip and keep quiet in the cause of his wife’s project but when women start to go missing he can’t keep still and attaches himself to the local police force. But the killer seems to be playing his own game with Matt and the hunt becomes increasingly personal and desperate. And then there’s that charismatic minister…
As soon as I heard about Purged I couldn’t wait to read it. I live in Oxfordshire and so its location really appealed. I love snooping around all of the stunning villages and churches around here and I’m always wondering if perhaps there’s something just too good to be true about such beauty. This novel tells me that perhaps I’m right! Purged also has such a catchy premise and its mood is sinister and deliciously creepy – and yet believable and real. There’s a line between religion and superstition that is crossed here and it makes for a mystery in which you sense that anything can happen. Matt and Wren might live in a horrible area of London but they soon learn that there is danger in paradise.
Matt is a great creation. He thinks too much, to be sure, but he is haunted by his past and, as he digs into the lives of others, he finds similar nightmares. Perhaps, this is a world in need of a god, but whether it’s the god of Hobbs Hill is another matter entirely. As you’d expect from the nature of the mystery – and also the fact that the author is a minister himself – there are some interesting conversations going on here about the nature of faith, need, salvation – good and evil. Matt is torn as he watches his daughters become caught up in the village’s passion – should he object or, as he’s always believed, is it up to them to make up their own minds?
There is a dark humour as well as the macabre in Purged. What a pleasure to read this book is! And extremely hard to put down and why would you want to? I didn’t. Incredible as it is to believe, Purged is Peter Laws’ first novel and it’s a brilliant achievement. This is a novel in which one should be thoroughly immersed. It contains a gripping mystery, terrifying evil and also goodness. I am so pleased to learn that this is just the first in a new series. The next one will go straight to the top of my reading pile and that’s not something I say about many series. Purged is an absolute corker!