Suffer the Children
By John Saul
If you keep up with my this blog, then you know I’m on a little bit of a John Saul ride. Even though the last book of his I read, Punish the Sinners, was far from my favorite book, I do like is latest efforts. So, I thought I’d try another of his earlier works. Turns out, Suffer the Children was his first book ever. It shows.
It begins with a prologue. One-hundred years ago a man rapes and does away with his 10-year-old daughter and then summarily kills himself by jumping off a cliff into the ocean below.
The story that follows begins with the descendants of the child-killer, the Conger family. They are the last of their line. They are the most prominent and wealthy citizens of their small farming community (although, their wealth is not what it used to be). They aren’t exactly well-liked, but they are respected. Until the story begins to unfold.
Several children go missing in town. All last seen near the Conger homestead or with a Conger daughter.
Suspicion and distrust begins to tear away the respect of the townsfolk. The Congers are accused both openly and behind closed doors.
For a first novel, Suffer the Children is not bad. The plot is plausible—though at times it reaches a little further than it should—and the characters are well written and worthy of empathy. And yet, even having said that, there were times when I thought their actions and reactions were a little…off.
For example (I hope I’m not spoiling too much) when their lives begin to fall apart, so do they. Sort of. At one point, the husband comes home after a night of being gone and casually mentions he’s slept with another woman. The wife takes the news in and then suggests they deal with it later. Much later. It’s not mentioned again for many chapters and when it is, it smoothed over as if it never happened. UH UH! I don’t care what else is going on in life, no woman I know would take that news so calmly.
The rest of story is somewhat slower-paced than what I’m used to in good books. However, it kept my interest from beginning to end. Earlier, I said it “it shows” that Suffer the Children was Saul’s first book. Here’s why. Even though the story has good bones and it interesting and entertaining, the prose needs polish and there are several gaps in the story that needed filling.
I will warn future readers about this too, this story is about murder, mayhem and other more unsavory topics (the rape of a child for one). There are some very grisly death scenes and unsettling moments of psychological torture that were hard to get through. This is not a pretty book.
However, it was scary and creepy and downright wicked and those are things that I, for one, am after when reading a horror story.