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The Purified is the sequel to Errant Blood by CF Peterson, set in the fictional highland village of Duncal. In it Eamon Ansgar, the local laird is looking into the deaths of two men newly moved to the village in a suspected homophobic attack. As Eamon investigates Peterson touches on many of societies contemporary issues, rewilding, divisive political figures, conversion therapy, and weaves them into what is a solid thriller plot.
However among the solid and fast moving plot there are pieces of lovely writing, and the characters of Mo, Solly and Quailm are beautifully drawn out. Seeing the Highlands through their eyes will be a delight for both those intimate with the area and those who have never been. Which is more of a feat than one would assume, as many writers, even those native to the Highlands can imbue their descriptions with a sense of twee kitsch and a paint by numbers version of what is a beautiful, but highly complex, part of the world. Writing the Highlands is easy, but writing the Highlands well, with a sensitivity to the land and it’s deep history is a feat that only those with a unforced empathy can complete.
While there is much to like in The Purified it is let down by the fact that Peterson is not able to sustain this style throughout the book. Sure, this is understandable in action scenes, but characters who we spend a much longer time with such as Eamon, or Stevie, are not given the same amount of depth. Indeed our leading man Eamon becomes a bit of an empty vessel. It is unclear why exactly he feels it is his duty to investigate anything at all, and his motivation for anything remains a mystery. On top of this his recklessness is merely accepted by his wife who is stuck at home looking after an infant son and elderly mother, who despite being cast as a surely, sneering an overbearing thorn in the side, has a sudden emotional confession for what appears to be no reason at all, apart from to make a subsequent scene more poignant.
Mix this with action scenes that move, just a bit to fast for comfortable following, and the result is a narrative that holds much potential but lurches awkwardly between lyrical and thoughtful prose accompanied by wonderful characterisation, and wooden characters and a reading experience akin to watching hand held camera footage which is always slightly out of focus.
Peterson’s ambition to write a thriller that can also be a lovely piece of writing is not a wrong one, it can and absolutely should be attempted, it’s just that in the book he has not yet found the key to making it work – but I absolutely look forward to reading the book he writes when he unlocks this secret door.