This is not an easy read, a crime novel and psychological thriller underpinned by religious zeal and evangelism. That said, it was a real page turner, the plot was well constructed, the characters well put together leaving you guessing as to who the murderer was, indeed guessing whether there actually had been a murder at all.
The murder scenes were described clearly but not overly gorily. As the reader I was left wondering who the perpetrator could be and as the bodies were not found wondering if murder actually happened. There were many flashbacks in the book and the narrative changed in tone for both the flashbacks and the crimes leaving a sliver of doubt as to whether they were in the past or maybe even a dream.
The author is heralded as ‘an ordained Baptist minister with a taste for the macabre’ and I certainly can’t argue with the latter part of that statement. I found it very interesting that a man of the cloth would write about the effects of religion in such a way. The pastor and community could be called extremists and certainly the actions of the perpetrator were extreme. Written by anyone else it could come across as religion bashing. If you want to read the book and not know what happens, please stop reading now as I will be talking about the ending.
The Purged of the title refers to people who are about to be baptised. At a party these people are purged of their old selves to become newly born in the eyes of the church. The baptism itself was full immersion in the local lake. While there is nothing sinister in this itself, it is set with the backdrop of a missing teenage girl whose murder took place immediately after, you could say as part of, her baptism. Then a terminally ill woman suffers the same fate.
The tension is increased as we follow the main character, Matt Hunter. He is a former minister who lost his faith when he lost his mother in horrific violent circumstances. We learn about this through the flashbacks Matt has as the story unfolds. Matt, his wife, teenage step daughter and young daughter are staying in an Oxfordshire village as his wife has been invited to tender to be the architect for the church renovations. But it is no coincidence that they are there as the vicar of the parish is an old college buddy of Matt’s and their turbulent relationship is also uncovered as the book progresses. There are many strands but they are cleverly woven together so it does not become confusing and in fact adds to the tension and mystery of the situation.
This is a great whodunnit, I’ve read reviews where people have said they worked it out half way through the book but I certainly didn’t. I wouldn’t say it was a complete surprise as it really could have been anyone. I will have to read it again to see if I can pick up the clues better knowing the answer. But for me the identity of the murderer was not the pinnacle of the story. It was a far more rounded and interesting tale for that.
If I question the book at all it is on two points. Matt seems quite detached from his family, while he is running around the county helping the police and indeed himself as he becomes a suspect, his wife and daughters are having a day out in Oxford and then heading to the cinema. If felt a bit like he was doing the ‘man’s work’ while the girls were sent to be occupied elsewhere.
The other is the end and indeed the last murder. The motive for the murders of the teenage girl and the terminally ill woman was to save their souls. They were baptised and then killed before they had chance to lose their cleanliness by sinning. But the murderer’s last victim was the minister and it was not clear what the motive was here. He was not baptised prior to being killed and as the minister leading this particularly strong church community was clearly leading a holy life, so this killing seemed out of kilter. The murderer himself then tried to force Matt’s step daughter to kill him by pushing him over a waterfall, he couldn’t jump as suicides all go to hell. I’m not sure why he was so ready to die when he was discovered. I’m all in favour of endings where not all the loose ends are quite tied up, a little wondering about what happened adds to the intrigue, but I was a little perplexed by that.
However, that said I enjoyed this book. It is the first of a series of books with Matt Hunter the next in the series being ‘Unleashed’ which I shall read at some point. But I have other books to catch up on first…