Adam Creed's novel Suffer the Children is the start of a series for which Faber is providing some keen marketing push, e.g. TV advertisements are about to hit our screens in September on digital channel Alibi and the novel was priced at £10, although you can get further discounts in places like Amazon.
Because of the timing of publication, Suffer the Children was no doubt written before the very sad case of Baby Peter which came to light last year and which saw a surge in public interest in naming and shaming (and more) the perpetrators of such immense cruelty, before the legal process had completed its course. For, hovering beneath the surface at a visceral level, the public deplores acts of violence against children and it is for this crime that retaliation and retribution is most likely to erupt in the vigilante arena. Indeed, on the also very sad occasion of the murder of Sarah Payne in 2000, the News of the World started a "name and shame" campaign to expose paedophiles. This led to an attack in the south Wales area on the home of a paediatrician, because those concerned did not know the difference, and only saw the prefix of "paed-".
If there is a fine line on which to balance when it comes to policing and the law, you will find it here and it is this that Adam Creed explores in Suffer the Children. This is very sensitive subject matter and it is not taken, nor explored in a gratuitous fashion for the sake of entertainment, for Creed wants to make us think. He also appears to be the right man to do so as the father of two daughters, Lecturer in and Head of Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University, where, within the "Free to Write Project" he works with prisoners and ex-offenders.
Suffer the Children introduces D. I. Will Wagstaffe, a man dedicated to his job, but also someone who will pursue the unconventional as well as the conventional routes for justice to be done. He operates within the City of London Police, although the Met are obviously never far away and liaisons need to be maintained. Just as he is about to embark on a "holiday" which involves his own years' long personal search for justice in the case of his parents having died as a result of an ETA terrorist bombing in Spain, a paedophile is brutally murdered on his patch. He cancels his holiday, even before he makes it to the airport and immediately returns to work.
When a second vigilante attack occurs, Staffe's role starts to be questioned as he makes it to the scene with just enough time to save the victim and he then appears to be a target for communication from the vigilantes, or, as some believe, is involved in some way.
In Suffer the Children we have a well-constructed plot and a well-developed character with Staffe himself. The pressures on the police and their negative feelings on having to protect victims who are thought or known to be paedophiles, whilst having to interrogate the victims of paedophilia and their relatives, are well-drawn. You read on wanting to know the resolution, wanting it to be the right one and having much empathy with the characters. Perhaps all of them, in this case.
However, this start to a series can only get better if a "nip and tuck" edit is applied as Suffer the Children proved to be a demanding read on a couple of unnecessary levels:
- The plot of Suffer the Children demands quite a few characters, but as an opener to a series we also have Staffe's backstory involving his career history, family and love life. This can create rather a large universe to take in. (One remedy is to plan to read it in as few sittings as possible in order to remember who's who.) But I do feel the novel would have benefited from a few cuts in places.
- A story in the present tense is not a problem per se, but overlaid with dialect/colloquialisms it can become a jarring read on times. I referred to the proof copy at the start as I wondered on expressions such as "lid down", especially. Having worked in the City in the 90s, I could not relate to this and thought it might be an uncorrected typo until it came up again and again. The jarring interrupts the rhythm to the read and thus causes abrupt changes to the pace.
I found Suffer the Children to be a pacey read even if its subject matter was not of my taste. This will apply to many readers, but I assure you that Creed is excellent on contemporary crime themes, always seeking to draw attention to the fine line and the risk of losing balance, but directing us to that door of balance and justice in the process.
Suffer the Children offers far more for the series as a whole than it would as a standalone. It's the introduction to Staffe's world, investigating one case and, as it happens, dealing with the detritus of another for which the courts have just finalised judgement. This creates a very real appreciation of the life of a London copper, but combined with what I said above, in the reality of reading is too much in one book.
The sequel/number two in the Staffe trilogy, Willing Flesh follows in May 2010. My recommendation is that you read both as close together as possible in order to remember the details from Suffer the Children.
Tony Blair once said, in the run up to an election "We are all tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime…" And he didn't deliver. In Suffer the Children, Creed is good on crime and the causes of crime. And he does deliver. The delivery may be clunky on times, but he does deliver. I will read more from this author.