The Islamist of Pepynbridge
i2i Publishing £8.95
Church Times Bookshop £8.05
PETER MORRELL’s quintessentially English Northamptonshire village of Pepynbridge is a happening little place. Last year it was rocked by scandal when a teenage girl falsely accused the Rector of sexual abuse (Books, 1 January 2016). In his second novel, Ash Malik, born in Pakistan, but apparently a thoroughly assimilated British boy, moves to the village with his family, joins the abbey choir, plays cricket, and finds himself a girlfriend, the daughter of a local farmer.
But Ash is not all he seems, as his headmaster and his sister Leela guess. A devout Muslim, he is impatient with his parents’ relaxed attitude to their religion, and the prayer group he belongs to at school leads him on to dangerous ground. At the same time, new friendships cause him to change his perspective. Only by extricating himself at enormous personal risk can he save the people he has come to love.
Faced with a promising first novel, the reviewer always wonders whether the writer will continue to develop, and it’s pleasing to see that this writer has. While this is, first and foremost, a thriller that draws on Morrell’s own background as a deacon and retired judge, he also examines why a bright teenager might be tempted by fundamentalism, and then be drawn to Christianity. While making it perfectly clear in the debates between Ash and the Rector that Christianity, with its message of love and free will, is superior to Islam, with its message of submission, and that blind adherence to any ideology is a terrible evil, he has some pertinent criticisms to make of the C of E.
I would have been happier without the inept descriptions of teenage sexual intercourse. Ruth Rendell doesn’t need them, and neither do we. If you skip the mucky bits, however, this is a really good book.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.