A Man Against a Background of Flames
Appleby, a history lecturer, stumbles across records of a massacre in a Wiltshire village. His researches suggest that in 1594 the Bishop of Salisbury had arranged the killing of a local gentleman and everybody who was in his house at the time. Some sort of quasi-religious meeting had been held there, and around half of the villagers had lost their lives in the massacre.
Appleby discovers that the gentleman, Sir Nicholas Harker, had developed his own form of worship – a sort of humanist agnosticism – which was seen as hugely threatening to the Church at a time when the Protestant faith was being legally enforced. The book provides a convincing picture of the machinations of Church and State faced with such a challenge. However, the history is simply background to a very modern story. Harkerism becomes a 21st-century faith, which generates just as much opposition as its Elizabethan predecessor. Appleby becomes the target of professional assassins.
The writing is good and the characterisation excellent. There are interesting ideas about the role of religion, but these are subordinated to a series of shootings, bombings and increasingly improbable conspiracies underpinned, in a particularly unfortunate cliché, by Big Oil.