Dan Brown has a lot to answer for. Following the rollercoaster success of The Da Vinci Code a tidal wave of novels merging history, science and ancient Christianity has engulfed the fiction world.

All of them have one thing in common; a deadly secret hidden for millennia is on the verge of discovery which will change the world and our perception of our place in it.

Whether it is the Holy Grail, extant members of the blood line of Christ, breaking news that the Son of God is from Mars, all have BIG CONCEPT at the heart of the storyline.

However, all that is about to change. A Victorian terrace in North London a mile from where I was born was not the first place that I would have looked for a literary revolution but this is the home of the former Times TV critic Paul Hoggart.

Hoggart has just published his first novel on Kindle and the print version is to be released in October.

I read the Kindle version with interest that quickly became obsessive and Paul was kind enough to grant me an interview.

The hero of the book is a middle-aged, rather dumpy academic, a character – for reasons that I can’t fathom – with whom I immediately felt at home. Appleby is a historian and humanities lecturer on secondment to a fictional Cambridge College (Despenser) when he receives a call from a friend in Amsterdam about the recent discovery of a chest of documents belonging to the 15th century Oxford scholar Sir Nicholas Harker.

So far, so good, nothing radically unconventional in this start. Aha, you think, buckle in for yet another quest for the last resting place of the Holy Grail.

But, in fact no. We follow Appleby as he decodes the secret of the chest and find that its secret is that most powerful of religious artefacts, simple belief.

But what’s this? This is not belief in some form of deity, this is the belief that since there is no evidence for the existence of a deity then it is time to think again. And all this in the 15th century!

I dare not reveal more of the plot except to say that this approach makes Hoggart’s novel by far the most believable of any of the Dan Brown genre that I have ever come across.

Hoggart told me over lunch: “That was the delight for me in writing the book. The deux ex machina was not some outré artefact or person, it was what the core of any system of religion is about – belief.”

Harker’s philosophy emerges carefully and rationally throughout the book with very clever use of back-story and multiple storylines to carry the reader along. Whereas lesser authors might have lost their readers with this rich narrative mixture Hoggart’s is as carefully woven as the Turin Shroud.

But this is not to say that the book lacks action – on the contrary it bulges with action sequences populated by the most odious bad guys you’ll ever encounter. You think Al Qaeda is bad? Try American white-supremacist Bible-belt Christian wack-jobs – with enough heavy weapons to give Jason Bourne the vapours.

It is a testament to Hoggart’s skill as a novelist that he can pull off exploding helicopter sequences within paragraphs of 15th century musings on the nature of reality. What makes it all the more believable is that the bad guys wielding these venal hit men are precisely the guys who you would expect to have a vested interest in maintaining the ecumenical status quo.

When you find that Catholics, Anglicans, Islamists, and Jews all attending a joint conference (in Beirut – where else?) to denounce Harkerism (which has taken root in as the new designer ‘religion’ for the 21st century) and are trying to eradicate it by any means possible, you realise the truth of what you’ve known all along: religion, of whatever flavour, is just two-thousand-year old mind control.

A Man Against a Background of Flames adds up to one of the most thrilling reads I have encountered in recent years and the best bit for me is that it has its origins in Oxford.

Sir Nicholas Harker, it turns out, studied at New College where he developed his heretical ideas. Hoggart’s wry humour is well on display here since, as many will know, New College is the intellectual home of evangelical-atheist-supreme, Richard Dawkins. But Dawkins is a mere five-centuries-too-late neophyte compared to his fictional intellectual ancestor.

Hoggart tells me that the sequel to A Man Against a Background of Flames is to be based in Oxford. I can’t wait.

A Man Against a Background of Flames is published by Pighog Press

About the author

Paul Hoggart was born in 1952, the youngest son of Richard Hoggart, the well-known academic who founded cultural studies as a key ingredient of university humanities courses worldwide. His brother is the Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart.

Paul received his first degree at the University of York in English and then went on to do a Masters degree in English and French. He spent his late teens in Paris “where I spent my days thinking about art and literature” before moving back to the UK where he held a variety of jobs in higher education. Until recently he was the TV critic for The Times but now works as a freelance feature writer for, among others, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, The Stage and many others. His latest feature is in the Radio Times.

Paul married Elizabeth, also in higher education, in 2001 after a 25-year courtship.

Paul says “the important things in life should not be rushed – hence the long wait for my first novel.”

Paul and Elizabeth married in the Las Vegas ‘Drive-In’ Chapel because, says Paul: “It seemed a hell of a lot more exciting than Haringey Registry Office – and the Pastor looked like an extra from The Sopranos.” They have three children all in their twenties.

Paul lives with Elizabeth in Muswell Hill – a well-known stomping ground for the North London intellectual literati – where he likes to remain within minimum safe distance of gourmet Japanese restaurants.

Paul is currently writing a sequel to A Man Against A Background Of Flames, which deals with St Nicholas Harper’s heretical education in Oxford.