Neighbours From Hell by Steven Suttie

In my post on Friday, Six Months of Reviewing: An Education, I sang the praises once again of Steven Suttie’s novel, One Man Crusade, a book that stunned me with how much it affected me emotionally when I read and reviewed it back in May 2015, becoming May’s Segnalibro Book of the Month. This is undoubtedly a novel that will forever stand out as a brilliant narrative for me. So, when I heard that there was to be a sequel, I was very excited to read it. Released on 14th September, Neighbours From Hell reunites the reader with DCI Andy Miller and his team. I pre-ordered it once I knew it was due for release but I hadn’t had chance to read it when it downloaded onto my Kindle. I recommended One Man Crusade to my friend Nichola and she enjoyed it so much, she downloaded and read Neighbours from Hell before I had and although she didn’t tell me why, she said she had been left frustrated about the ending. I decided to put aside some time to read it myself this weekend, eager to find out where Suttie had taken the characters I had loved so much in One Man Crusade.

I’ll admit, I began reading Neighbours From Hell with high expectations after loving One Man Crusade so much. I wasn’t disappointed as I read the first few chapters and was instantly gripped, invested in a new set of characters, loving the characters Rachel Birdsworth, Mick Crossley and their family straight away. In true Suttie style, he has created a social dilemma whereby a housing developer has been brought back from the brink of bankruptcy after being paid by the local council to use the empty houses of a well-to-do housing estate as council houses. The involvement of the press has alerted the residents, who have paid a considerable amount of money to buy their large new houses, that they are about to have new neighbours who would never be able to afford these houses themselves had they not been placed there by the council. Rachel and Mick move in with their four children across the road from Graham and Suzanne Ashcroft. Graham is a high flyer at Bury Council and has objected from the start against this scheme from the beginning, making his feelings known by sending emails to all those council members who may be able to influence this decision, but to no avail, getting himself disciplined in the process.

Graham has no interest in getting to know the new neighbours, instead choosing to be downright hostile and rude to them, as his young, pretty wife looks on nervously. Rachel won’t have any of this, deciding to try to make peace with the couple, letting them know that they have nothing to worry about from her family. Suzanne seems to like Rachel from the beginning, but is well aware that her husband will not be happy if she makes friends with the new neighbours.  Rachel and Mick have had to sign a contract that has them having to follow strict rules and regulations otherwise they will be evicted from their temporary home, which is a considerable step up from the static caravan that their family have lived in since a fire destroyed their house eighteen months earlier, so they try to keep the peace. The arrival of a known criminal on the street a few doors down, does nothing to improve their attempts to keep themselves to themselves and out of trouble. After playing peacemaker between Graham and “Kev Soprano”, as Mick dubs him, Rachel and Mick’s concerns increase that they are likely to find themselves on the streets if this continues.

Rachel is a nice, kind soul, if a bit rough around the edges. She has a good heart and when she realises that Graham beats Suzanne up on a regular basis, she is torn between wanting to help her and keeping her head down. However, after making a snap decision to come to Suzanne’s aid, she finds herself inadvertently involved in a situation that could not only mean that the family could be evicted but that she could end up in prison for a long time. With the unpredictable Suzanne, the blackmailing Tania (Kev’s long-suffering wife) and her husband, Mick, they are all embroiled in a cover up which threatens to expose them all at any point. Following the realisation that Rachel and Mick’s daughter, Britney, knows their secret, and that our favourite DCI has been made aware of the disappearance of Graham Ashcroft by his friend, who is an apparent nosy neighbour, they are on borrowed time before the police put two and two together.

I was loving this novel. It doesn’t quite have that emotive edge that One Man Crusade has (I didn’t come close to tears at any point) but it is a well-written story with enough unknowns to keep you interested throughout. I was thoroughly enjoying the reading experience until I got near to the end and it seemed that there wasn’t enough of the book left to answer all the unanswered questions  that I had up to that point. The ending felt really rushed, leaving more questions than answers, many that I assume are likely to be left unanswered, even if (hopefully) Suttie writes another DCI Miller novel. I had to wonder if Suttie up against a deadline to finish the book and rushed the ending?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic narrative. However, it feels like so much was left out. Having since had a discussion with my friend, Nichola, as we swapped our viewpoints on this book, she reckoned there was at least another ten chapters missing and I have to agree. First of all, there was nowhere near enough interaction between the police department that we got to know and love in the first book, with the exception of DCI Miller, who effectively takes on this case as an aside to the many other cases he apparently has, just because he is intrigued about what has happened on his friend’s posh estate. He involves a PC who we met briefly in One Man Crusade which leaves scope for more in future novels, and while there is potential for a meaty investigation as Miller’s team investigate a series of canal murders in the Manchester area, this is only touched upon. It may be that Suttie intends to revisit this in a future book. Perhaps the rest of Miller’s team would be given more to do in the next novel.

Regarding the main plot, there are many holes in the conclusion that leave the end of the novel lacking somehow. Rachel’s mother and Britney knew what actually happened but didn’t add anything to the case in the end. Why? Also, once Rachel and Mick had figured out their situation, why did they not tell the truth then? Surely Miller and his team would have to investigate further if they had told the truth. As Suzanne isn’t exactly squeaky clean, surely it wouldn’t have been much of a stretch to extend the investigation and unpack the truth. Tania is only alluded to at the end of the novel and there is obviously more of a connection between Suzanne and Tania that wasn’t made clear. Was it genuinely developed when they met on the estate or was there a back story, a hidden past? Also, why is Maureen unable to keep her promise to look after the children? Why was Graham painted to be a pillar of the community despite being forced out of his job? Why did no-one speak up when he was being portrayed as an innocent victim, particularly as it transpired that he had a history of sordid habits? I sincerely hope that Suttie intends to address at least some of the above questions in future novels.

Suttie has a fantastic talent for highlighting the flaws in society. He did that wonderfully in The Clitheroe Prime Minister and  One Man Crusade. He doesn’t disappoint in this respect in Neighbours From Hell as he takes stereotypical opinions and turns them on their head, showing that situations are not always as they first appear. I wonder if his intention with the way he has ended this novel is a tactic to show the reader that there is not always a happy ending and life is most definitely not fair, further elaborating that appearances can be deceptive. Yet, with The Clitheroe Prime Minister and One Man Crusade, although the conclusions are essentially the main protagonists making the best of a bad situation, the reader was left feeling that the ending was as it should be. I didn’t feel that with this novel, and I’m really sad about that.

Despite my misgivings about the ending and my wish that their had been more involvement by the rest of Miller’s team, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I read the bulk of it in one sitting, which shows how invested I was to the plot. Suttie’s journalistic writing style is really engaging, allowing the reader to make up their own minds on any given situation and I would undoubtedly read any future Suttie novels. However, having absolutely loved One Man Crusade, I can’t help but feel Suttie has sold himself short. Perhaps my expectations were just too high. Maybe Nichola and I are in the minority and other readers would find this an appropriate resolution to the plot. I would certainly encourage people to give it a go, because even if you reach the same conclusions as we did, you’ll have a book that you will enjoy and won’t be able to put down, plus you’ll be up to speed for the next one, as I certainly hope that there will be future DCI Miller tales. Ultimately, it does not meet the exceptional brilliance of One Man Crusade (perhaps that is as it should be) but it does leave plenty of opportunity for Suttie to expand the series further, which I look forward to reading and reviewing in the future.

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