Paul Hoggart – A Man Against a Background of Flames

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A Man Against a Background of Flames is a classic thriller in a similar vein to The DaVinci Code, but perhaps more interesting, less tabloid.

It’s the story of an academic who discovers a trove of documents dating from the 16th century. These turn out to be a record of the meetings of a group of agnostics or humanists: a group that was locked into a building in Wiltshire and burned as heretics at the behest of the bishop during the 1500s. Rediscovered in the twenty-first century these documents prove to be equally controversial in our post scientific age of religious fundamentalism: many are moved and interested by their humanistic approach to religion. However, a newly formed group calling itself the Children of Abraham has the explicit intention of wiping out all trace of these documents, and the researchers who have worked on them.

The scene is set for a thoughtful and exciting story set on two continents. There’s sufficient phoney history to whet the appetite, and plenty of suspense and violence. The hero, obviously, has a rather complicated personal life and we get to see plenty of that too. It’s sort of convincing if a little predictable. There are some interesting vignettes of the hunters – and one particular character, van Stumpe, a Dutch academic who is an interesting experiment in characterisation – explicitly compared to Wemmick in Great Expectations.

It’s an easy and entertaining read, but just so you know here’s a chapter ending quote that possibly typifies the style; you may like it or not:

Neither of them noticed the small grey hatchback pulling out after them from the far side of the square.

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