Purged by Peter Laws
Matt Hunter lost his faith a long time ago. Formerly a minister, now a professor of sociology, he’s writing a book that debunks the Christian faith while assisting the police with religiously motivated crimes. On holiday with his family in Oxfordshire, Matt finds himself on edge in a seemingly idyllic village where wooden crosses hang at every turn. The stay becomes more sinister still when a local girl goes missing, followed by further disappearances. Caught up in an investigation that brings memories to the surface that he would prefer stay buried deep, Matt is on the trail of a killer determined to save us all.
Wow crikey bobs, this novel is dark, creepy and is destined to give you the heebee jeebies. I am a huge fan of horror movies, since my early teens. The one to truly scar me, was The Exorcist! I knew it was due to the religious elements. Years later I read the novel, of The Exorcist in one day and then refused to keep it, as I didn’t want it in my house. There is just something about the darkness of religion in horror or crime fiction, that is guaranteed to make this reader, feel terrified!
The novel opens with a very dramatic and vivid scene. So you will know straight away, if this is one you can handle! As the novel develops we meet Matt Hunter, fallen Christian and Professor of sociology. Matt regularly works with Sgt Bob Gerard and DS Larry Forbes to assess/assist with crimes with a possible religious element. Almost immediately we are taken to an emergency hostage situation where Nigerian Kwame Adakay is holding a knife to his wife’s throat, claiming she is possessed and demanding a vicar. I couldn’t believe how much action and intensity the novel held within it’s opening pages. A very impressive start by all accounts.
Next, we meet Matt’s family. Wife Wren and step children Lucy and Amelia. Lucy appears, not be Matt’s biggest fan and the standard step parent/child relationship is easily explained. The family are due to leave for a holiday in an idyllic Oxfordshire cottage. As Wren attempts to win a contract to develop a local church, as Wren is an architect by trade. However, when they arrive at the church, they discover the church is not all it seems…….
Matt’s past is explained slowly throughout the novel and in particular the story of his mother’s death and eventual break from the fold of the church is both moving and horrifying! Whilst staying at Kingdom Come Church, Matt is reacquainted with someone from his past, Chris Kelly. Pastor Chris runs a church with 300 members and they hold what they call ‘purging’ ceremony’s. Members are baptised, saying bye to their old selves as the enter the ‘kingdom of light’. Now as this storyline unravels, I found it getting more and more creepy. Is this a church or a cult? Why does someone’s deep passion for their faith, scare me so much?
When Matt receives an image of a young girl via email and the young girl is reported missing in the village moments later. The novel shifts to a much darker and intense vibe, mainly due to, creepy pastor Chris. I found his character, one I would want to avoid at all costs. He comes on very strong, appearing controlling and self-righteous. When another woman is reported missing and the numbers of missing females rises. Matt must solve the mystery, before it strikes at the very heart of his family. What is the connection behind the girls/women? Is there a religious element to their disappearances? Can he solve it?
Due to the religious content, I was not only questioning the intent of the characters. But what could also be visions of faith or delusions. My general opinion, is that it drove me slightly mad, but totally in a good way! Gripping, dark and almost definitely sinful stuff! 4*
Q) For the readers, can you give a summary of your novel Purged
A) Purged is the first in a series of novels featuring Matt Hunter. He’s an atheist ex-vicar who now works as a London academic. As well as writing books debunking the Christian faith he uses his Biblical training and theological skill to catch religiously motivated murderers and cults. In Purged, he’s on the trail of an evangelical killer who’s obsessed with baptism. Basically – and this isn’t given any spoilers since it’s in the first chapter – he wants to save people’s souls for heaven so he kills people soon after they’re baptised. It’s a way of fast-tracking them into paradise without giving them time to lose their faith. Yeah, he’s a nut – but he makes for an interesting killer, because in many ways he cares for his victims.
…and what’s your background?
Like Matt Hunter, I’m also an ordained church minister – but unlike him I haven’t turned away from that! These days my denomination (Baptist) have freed me up from looking after a local congregation, so now I write full time. But I still travel around speaking and preaching in churches.
I also present a YouTube channel and podcast called The Flicks That Church Forgot, which reviews scary films from a spiritual perspective. I write a horror film column for the print magazine The Fortean Times. So basically, my working life has a lot of scary and sacred stuff in it! But I balance that out with lots of fun stuff too, ha ha.
Q) Crikey Bobs! I hate to make a sweeping generalisation, but that was not a novel I expected from a Reverend. I have to know, where the inspiration for this novel came from?
A) Yeah, people seem surprised because the book is pretty gory and unpleasant in places and there’s a bit of swearing here and there. But I think the main thing that strikes people is that the main character is so openly antagonistic toward God and Christianity. Some might expect me to write a more cosy book that promotes Christianity. In some ways, this book does the opposite! I’m okay with that though, because I think readers can handle that. Plus I’m just really interested in Matt as a character. A lot of crime fiction has a hero who battles with alcoholism or divorce etc, but Matt is healthy and happy in his family. His issues just tend to be a little more cosmic – so he struggles with the idea of faith. I think a lot of people struggle with it, actually, so I’m hoping people can relate to it. I’ve had some amazing responses to the book, both from religious people and atheists.
Q) I have to be careful not to risk spoilers but the novel dangles the possibility that Kingdom Come Church, may be a cult with Pastor Chris in church. Was this something you researched?
A) I didn’t do any specific research into cults, but I do have lots of experience of people assuming the Christian church is freaky and cult like! To be honest, Abby, I only started going to church when I was in my early twenties. Before that I was really anti-religion, especially towards Christianity. And my early stereotypes of Christians were that they were at best boring and irrelevant or at worst corrupt and trying to brain wash me. Then at University I met Christians who were really normal people, and intelligent too. They were experts in science and other subjects I assumed would clash with religious faith. So I looked into the claims about Jesus and it did change me. I don’t mean I turned into some freaky Stepford Husband, who lost his personality. I just mean it totally revolutionised my sense of purpose and worth. These days, I’ve seen the local church as a pretty amazing place for community, support and spiritual adventure – but I still remember my suspicions of it…and I also appreciate that there are plenty of really whacky believers out there who get the attention. Even more so, with these Matt Hunter books, ha ha!
Q) I think the character of Matt and his backstory worked very well. Is there a real life Matt that you based the character around?
A) In terms of his backstory of losing faith, he isn’t based on anyone in particular. He’s more a composite of reasons why people get understandably disillusioned with the idea of God. But in other ways, he’s kinda based on me. I know it’s lazy, but I just couldn’t help it. We share the same quirky humour and lots of his observations about the church are based on my own thoughts. Course, he’s way cooler, braver and intelligent than me, but I can live with that.
Q) As stated in my review, the one horror movie. To truly scar me was The Exorcist. What was a movie that frightened you as a teen or adult?
A) Oh, The Exorcist. That really freaked me out, but it also was one of the first films that made me really start to think about the idea of spirituality. Oddly enough, horror movies and scary stories have been an important part of my coming to believe in God. Which sounds a bit odd, I know.
Other films that scared me include Roman Polanski’s Repulsion – about a young woman who gradually goes insane. That really got under my skin. And films like The Amityville Horror and The Changeling from my youth really gave me the creeps. I watch all sorts of films, but I do love horror. It’s one of the reasons why Purged is listed as a Crime Fiction book, which it is, but there’s a generous dose of the macabre in there too, with hints of the supernatural. So some people have described it as a mixture of the two. But it’s written in such a way that you can read it purely as a crime thriller and it works fine that way. I just like a bit of extra spook in my stories, so that’s there too if you like it.
Q) What’s next, have you anymore plans to write another novel?
A) Not just plans…it’s already done! The follow up to Purged is called Unleashed, and it hits shops on July 20th. Hopefully if enough people buy the first two books, the publishers will commission more – I certainly have book three plotted out and ready to start working on. Since Matt isn’t tied to one city or police department, he can technically go anywhere in the world, tracking down crazy religious killers.
Incidentally, I actually spent the last five years trying to get published and wrote four novels in that time. It’s been a long road of rejections, but not that the books are coming out, and being so well received, it’s fantastic.
As for what I’m working on right now, I’m actually writing a non-fiction book for Icon Books. It’s funny how that came about. Basically I was worried I might not get any publishing deal for Matt Hunter, so I asked my agent to pitch my idea for a non-fiction book instead. Then I got a two book fiction deal, and soon after the non-fiction was accepted too! So that’s three books of mine coming out in the space of 18th months or so.
So this non-fiction thing is (currently) called The Frighteners and comes out in hardback and audio in the UK and US next year. It’s basically me on a Louis Theroux-style quest to understand why humans are drawn to the strange, morbid and scary. I’ve been interviewing psychologists, anthropologists and other experts while also meeting self-proclaimed vampires and ghost hunters. I’ve been werewolf hunting in Hull, trekking the snowy streets of Transylvania, I’ve held a lock of Charles Mansons hair in my hands, and have been subjected to a bizarre day and night of scares for a BBC documentary which is out next year. In October, I’ve even been invited to Germany to board a vintage schooner ship, to recreate the journey Dracula made from Transylvania to Whitby! That’s with a bunch of Norwegians who will be in character for the full trip. I just heard that my character is somebody posh so I don’t have to spend the trip scrubbing decks! I also like composing music, and so I have recorded and released a full soundtrack album to Purged. It’s currently streaming for free at https://peterlaws.bandcamp.com/album/purged-the-original-soundtrack
*Huge Thank you to the author for taking part in a Q&A on my blog.
PL: Nah, thank YOU for being interested!
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