One Man Crusade by Steven Suttie

Last night, I tweeted: “I’m an emotional wreck after finishing #OneManCrusade by @StevenSuttie If you never read another crime novel, read this one!” In the cold light of day, and a very disappointing result (in my opinion) in the General Election, I wouldn’t just recommend this book, I implore everyone to read it.

One Man Crusade is not just a crime novel; it’s a social commentary of the struggles and influences of modern society. I rarely cry when I’m reading a book. (I think the last book I cried at was The Time Travelers Wife.) However, I cried at numerous chapters in this book and I think that the resonance with our current society in this fictional tale was too much to bear. This is a novel that doesn’t exaggerate. It just shows ordinary characters affected by extraordinary events.

In the wake of the brutal rape and murder of a little boy, the story follows a police team who are trying to solve a series of murders, seemingly connected but initially without a clear motive. DCI Andrew Miller, an ambitious and well-respected leader, and his team, seem to be coming up with constant dead ends and the mysterious lack of resources being supplied by the “top brass” is not helping matters. When Sky News get a call from the murderer asking if he can speak to the police through their news station, DCI Miller seizes the opportunity in the hope that he may find a lead. “Pop” introduces himself to the news presenter and sets his agenda out: he is going to kill convicted paedophiles and will only stop either when he is caught or when someone innocent is inadvertently hurt by his actions.

DCI Miller not only has the political agenda of the police chiefs to contend with; now he has a murderer who has gained huge national support because he is attempting to eliminate a real potential threat to British children. Even Miller’s wife is astonished that her husband can be actively trying to find the murderer, given that he is a father to twins himself. Miller argues that it his job to catch criminals. Regardless of this man’s motives, he cannot take matters into his own hands and murder people, paedophiles or not. However, Miller soon changes his ideas when he has chance to follow the constant coverage of Pop’s murders. Leaving the investigation in the capable hands of DI Karen Ellis, who is back to work two months after having her son, Miller becomes an advisor to Karen as she finds herself unsure of how she should approach the investigation given the extenuating circumstances of everyone wanting this murderer to stay at large, at least until he has rid the North West of a few more paedophiles. Ellis is eager for the promotion that Miller’s sudden departure leaves her with, but she realises that this is the worst possible case to have to begin her DCI role. The public don’t want her to find Pop, her superiors don’t want her to find Pop, and her motherly instinct is also fighting against her as she tries to find a way of doing her duty without compromising her future. Set in Manchester predominantly, I was familiar with the areas described as I’ve lived in the Manchester area all my life. I got particularly excited when I realised that one character lived on a road in Worsley, which is just around the corner from where I grew up. (Something else for me to love about this book!)

Steven Suttie writes with a journalistic style, reporting the events as they happened. This detached narration from various viewpoints allows the reader to develop their own opinion as they follow the murders, the reactions of those affected, the wider implications for society and the massive influence of the press on the investigation. During the narrative, Suttie inserts flashbacks to Pop’s life before the murders and the events that inspired him to risk his own liberty to murder the most abhorred criminals in the country. These interludes into Pop’s tragic back-story offer a further insight into the failings of the agencies that are supposed to provide support to society.

As a mother of three young girls, the subject matter of this novel was particularly evocative. Imagining myself watching Sky News as these fictional events unfold, I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t share the opinion of the public in Suttie’s novel in cheering Pop on as he attempts to make the country a better place by ridding the country of paedophiles. However, I’m also fully aware that vigilantism is not the way to deal with such problems and Suttie shows this in a very tragic way. Suttie doesn’t force the reader to take any particular point of view. He just reports the fictional facts. Yet by giving us the viewpoint of everyone involved, what is left is a commentary of today’s society; a criminal justice system in crisis, a society that is led wholeheartedly by the media and an underlying political agenda which demoralises those on the front line of public services. Of course, this is a work of fiction but there is undeniably evidence of this in the Britain of today.

Suttie has written a wonderful crime novel. No embellishment, just honest, emotive situations with a particularly poignant history and outcome. The narrative is steeped in authenticity and I couldn’t put this book down, reading a few chapters at every possible opportunity. If I had to make some kind of criticism, I would say that there are certain scenes which I thought were a bit too coincidental in comparison to the realism of the rest of the narrative but this is really nit-picking at what is a brilliant novel. A novel that has the ability to move the reader to tears, as this one did to me on more than one occasion, and a novel that can offer such a high sense of reality whilst telling a fictional story, is a wonder to behold. I cannot recommend this book enough.