Ashley’s debut novel tells the story of an idealist’s journey from criminal suspect to accepted messiah.
Peter Blake is an architect who cares about the environment, and as a vegetarian who emphasizes sustainability in his designs, he practices and preaches his beliefs. For his latest project, for example, he gives “instructive lectures to the workers about…the sustainable features he incorporated in the building.” One day, Peter finds himself mistakenly entangled in a double homicide on the construction site, and he becomes a wanted man. Forced to flee to a cabin in North Carolina, he hides while his trusted and lovely lawyer, Sofie, attempts to sort things out. Fortunately for Peter, his cabin is designed with the same environmental fastidiousness as his bigger projects: “Why pay for heat when the sun supplies far more than he ever needed, even in winter?” he reflects. Meanwhile, a fierce gentleman named Boris is attempting to track Peter down; he’s as skilled at investigation as Peter is at architecture, and he seems sure to get his man. Then the unexpected happens: After Peter leaves his woodsy hideaway, he emerges in a nearby church, where the churchgoers believe him to be the second coming of Christ. Seeing a rare opportunity for redemption, as well as a platform to preach his own sort of gospel, Peter becomes “The Man They Call Jesus.” He offers his seven principles to the world (the Fifth Principle, for example, is “Democracy, not Tyranny”). Peter must figure out how to survive in environments that are either accepting or hostile toward his message. The novel is slowed down at times by unenlightening details, such as when Sofie notes that a building’s “design uses as many plants as possible because plants absorb carbon dioxide and also give off life-supporting oxygen.” That said, the story does manage moments of great excitement: Will Peter really manage to convince people his message is worthwhile, and also avoid the aggressive Boris? Although some of Peter’s seven principles may strike some readers as obvious (“Almost no country on earth has all the natural resources it needs”), those intrigued by a TED-talking messiah will be eager to find out his fate.An imaginative take on the fugitive thriller that strikes a fine balance between idealist principles and getaway action.