About The Author
Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh. He currently lives in London.
It was while studying law and philosophy as a postgraduate that he first became interested in 20th-century German history, an interest he continued to explore while working in advertising. Trips to Berlin resulted in the conception of Bernie Gunther, a sardonic, tough-talking detective in 1930s Berlin. He first appeared in March Violets, published in 1989; this along with The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem, are nw avilable in the collection Berlin Noir.
After a 15-year hiatus, during which he wrote nine standalone novels, Kerr returned to his most famous creation with The One from the Other in 2006. The ninth Bernie Gunther novel, A Man without Breath, was published in 2013.
As P B Kerr, he is also the author of the seven-book children's fantasy series, Children of the Lamp, featuring twins John and Philippa Gaunt. The first of these, The Akhenaten Adventure, was published in 2004.
His latest novel is Prayer. The work Special Agent Gil Martins, does for the Huston FBI, investigating domestic terrorism, has led him to a crisis of faith. But his wife is unwavering in her faith and this divergence of views threatens to end their marriage.
A series of unexplained deaths leads Martins to Esther, a deeply disturbed woman who claims that the victims have been killed by prayer. When the evidence starts to mount that this bizarre claim might have some substance, the investigation challenges Martins' new beliefs, even more so when he realises his life might be the next in danger.
Writing exclusively for Foyles, Philip reveals the Baptist unpbringing that provoked his interest in American 'megachurches', with their congregations of thousands of worshippers, and how this inspired his new novel.
At odds with God
Jesus. Growing up in Edinburgh - if you want to scar a child for life then bring it up in the city of John Knox - my family was always on first name terms with the Lord Jesus. Sometimes it seemed that his name was forever on our lips. We spoke to him before every meal, when going to bed, and all day it seemed on Sunday.
My parents had been members of the Free Church of Scotland and reasoning that there's nothing free about the Free Church of Scotland and that this was not a family-friendly atmosphere in which to bring up a young family, they became Baptists, which is a very different sort of sect, no less weird but evangelical and therefore a bit more joyful, perhaps.
The modern Baptist church traces its origins to a seventeenth century English Separatist called John Smyth who rejected baptism of infants and instituted baptism only of believing adults. This is the Baptist Church that I remember. Once a month the carpets near the altar would be lifted and floorboards removed to reveal a mini swimming pool in which professing believers would be fully immersed in water, as Jesus had been baptised in the River Jordan, at least according to the gospels.
The problem was that I had a fear of water. Until the age of twelve I could not swim or even bear to have my head under water and consequently the spectacle of full immersion baptism - and by extension, the very idea of washing away the sin that was required to make my peace with Jesus - was horrifying to me. From quite an early age I knew that Jesus and I were not going to get along. Indeed, we stopped being on speaking terms altogether when I was about fourteen and my family came to live in a refreshingly more godless England.
And yet, like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, I have sometimes felt 'a twitch upon the thread'; even now, there are quite a few cobwebs that still attach my disbelieving mind to the ancient floorboards of my Baptist upbringing. Which is probably why I decided to write a novel about religion and, in particular, the American 'megachurch' movement which is Protestant and gospel orientated - a bit like my old church in Edinburgh, only much, much bigger. And louder. The largest of these, the Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas has a congregation of 17,500 people.
In the summer of 2011 I travelled to Houston and spent a very interesting few weeks attending several megachurches and - because I write crime novels and thrillers - visiting the local FBI field office, whose recently instituted domestic terrorism unit now spends as much time dealing with radical 'Christianists' as it does militant Islamists. Indeed most of the terrorism that the FBI detects and prevents these days is home-grown.
That book is now published and it's called Prayer and it's about a federal agent with the Houston FBI who, through constant exposure to sin and sinners, has become an atheist. It's about what happens to him when his more religious wife struggles to accommodate his new disbelief. The book deals with what happens to this disbelief when he investigates a series of unexplained deaths that bring his crisis of faith into terrifying focus. Inspired by the 'new atheism' of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, but also by Voltaire's mischievous assertion that no man can be an atheist in the dark, it also asks an important question: Who do you turn to when it seems that it's God who wants to destroy you?