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Suffer the Children / Sara Jayne Townsend

Lyrical Press / April 2010
Reviewed by: Rick R. Reed

Synopsis: (From Lyrical Press)

Fear has a face…

Orphaned at eighteen, Leanne's life is adrift in a sea of grief and drug use. She washes up on the shore of estranged relatives, the Carver family, struggling with loss of their own. The transition from her South London council estate to her new home in the Surrey middle-class suburbs is difficult for Leanne.

But beneath the respectable veneer of the quiet neighborhood, something terrifying lurks. Displaced and troubled teenagers are disappearing. Leanne recruits her cousin Simon and his girlfriend Carrie to help get to the bottom of the sinister mystery. Can the three of them stop a creature of unimaginable evil before Leanne becomes a target?

Review:

Suffer the Children is a good, old-fashioned horror story, with a touch of the paranormal, a little classic mythology, and a healthy dose of suspense, all set down in a contemporary British setting. It’s the kind of book perfect for curling up with on a rainy afternoon and reading from cover to cover. Author Townsend has a facile, easy way with her prose and a keen observer’s eye for people, resulting in unique and breathing characterization. Townsend’s characters are mostly young adults, late teens to early twenties, and she captures them well, in all their late-adolescent angst and bad decision-making.

It is this age group that forms the central conflict and central horror to the novel. The orphaned main character, Leanne, has lost her mother to a drug overdose (one long in coming) and discovered, almost at the same time, that she has an aunt and a ready-made family she never knew existed until her mother died. Leanne’s entry into this middle-class, white bread family, after growing up in what is essentially a London ghetto, makes for the novel’s initial dramatic tension.

But then teenagers begin disappearing. Teenagers like Leanne, fosters, delinquents, and the like, all turn up missing and leave not a trace behind. The Carver family, who have adopted Leanne, lost their own daughter, Emma, and she may have fallen victim to the same plight as the other missing kids, although her disappearance does not fit the pattern. But the author cleverly explains Emma’s disappearance.

The tension really ramps up in the novel when the pattern of disappearances begins to get noticed, not so much by the authorities, but by Leanne and her friends.

Unfortunately, the tension is slow in coming. And I fear many readers may not stick with Suffer the Children long enough to get to the really good parts. A reader is a full quarter of the way into the book until he or she truly begins to see some horror and some nail-biting suspense. If I hadn’t been reading this book to review, I don’t know that I would have stuck it out to get to the latter part of the book, when the tension, dramatic conflict, and terror really accelerate. In short, I think Townsend could have benefitted from a good editor, to help her shape and focus the novel a bit more. A good horror novel needs to grab a reader right from the start and Suffer the Children fails on that count.

But it is worth sticking with. In spite of a rather predictable climax and denouement (I saw the villain coming from a mile away), the book works. The author’s creation of likable characters who grow over the course of the novel, the palpable sense of tension and dread, and the effortless prose all combine to make Suffer the Children a horror experience I can definitely recommend.

Purchase Suffer the Children by Sara Jayne Townsend.

Columnist Rick R. Reed is the author of more than sixteen novels, three collections, and short fiction in more than twenty anthologies. He lives in Seattle, WA. Find out more about the author at his official author website.

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