C.F. Peterson’s debut novel, the critically acclaimed Errant Blood, was published back in 2017 with some comparing it to the best work of Iain Banks. Four years on and the follow up, The Purified, is now with us but time has not lessened the barely suppressed anger at the state of the world which Peterson exhibits. It's a thriller, and a genuine thrill at that, but so much more.
Peterson uses his writing to examine the political, social, and cultural, and this time around themes include nationalism, anarchism, land ownership, rewilding, and nuclear testing in Scotland. He asks readers questions which go way beyond "whodunit".
Once again we are taken to the village of Duncul in the Scottish Highlands, and, as with Errant Blood, Peterson presents us with a strong cast of characters. The enigmatic Eamon Ansgar is again at the centre of events as once more the world comes to him and Duncul, with local and international intrigue intertwining. The group of European anarchists are a mix of the naive and fanatical, a dangerous combination. And with strangers hiding in the hills, and locals going missing, there is a lot going on but never too much.
As with the more memorable sequels, The Purified takes the best things from the original and turns them up a notch (I'm thinking of Evil Dead II, Terminator II, The Godfather II or even Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey) and makes something new yet recognisable, keeping events just on the right side of believable. As the world and its media descend on Duncul things build to a pleasing crescendo as all the stories and different strands are tied together in style.
The Purified doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Peterson manages to introduce both characters and plot with great care for the reader, keeping them guessing as to what is unfolding and just who is who. While the influence of Banks is still clear, there is more than a hint of Agatha Christie this time round. Like the latter Peterson has carefully crafted his thriller leading to a satisfying, and unexpected, conclusion.
Quite simply, The Purified is an exemplary piece of crime writing, one which again leaves you wanting more. It is to be hoped that that will be the case, and that we don't have to wait four years for it. But if that's how long it takes it will be well worth it.
A version of this review first appeared in SNACK Magazine
You can still catch up with the Scots Whay Hae! podcast with C.F. Peterson