DI Will Wagstaffe, who is universally known as Staffe, is a policeman with problems. His parents were killed by a Basque bomb while on holiday while Staffe was a teenager; ever since he has been working with the Spanish police to track down the killers. He's just off to continue this quest, in the guise of a holiday, when he hears of a murder on the run-down Limekiln estate in his patch, "Leadengate" (a fictional area of London). Foregoing his trip to investigate the crime, we rapidly learn of Staffe's failed relationship with Sylvie; his hankering for his junior colleague Julie; his sense of responsibility for his drug-addicted sister Marie, a single parent whose boyfriend beats her up; guilt over Jessop, his ex-partner and mentor who has been forced into early retirement; and to cap it all, Staffe has just compromised himself in court in order to bang up a member of the "eGang". On the bright side, he is very well off, having used the compensation money from his parents' deaths to begin a second career as a property speculator. He now owns several houses in London, very useful for his rather complex life, and for helping out Marie (who has long-since blown her share of the compensation).
This busy background is worked into the plot that is kick-started by the Limekiln estate murder. The victim has in the past been accused, but not convicted, of a sex crime against a child. He's been killed in a particularly sadistic way, and the killer has left no trace of his (or her) crime. Soon, a second assault takes place – this one an even more sadistic and nasty ritual, which is unfortunately explained in some detail. The victim, Guy Montefiore, is a paedophile who is not allowed near his own daughter, and who has been stalking another teenage girl. Staffe manages to rescue Montefiore before he dies because someone, presumably the attacker, phones to alert him. Pennington, Staffe's unsympathetic boss, is suspicious of Staffe's own role in the attack, and wants to hand the case over to the Met. Staffe is convinced that the cases are related, so begs to keep control of the investigation – but his unorthodox methods enrage Pennington further.
Somewhere in SUFFER THE CHILDREN is a good story trying to get out. But because the book is stuffed with so many disparate themes, it has insufficient drive and pace. Staffe himself is the strongest element in the novel – some of his personal dilemmas are a bit cliched, but he's an interesting character with room for development. The plot, however, is far too bitty – gruesome serial killer, possible police conspiracy, a vigilante group that might or might not exist, whether the injured Montefiore will regain consciousness or if he'll be killed in his hospital bed, a mysterious video-embedded website, and what seems like endless witness and suspect interviews that are hard to keep distinct.
Unfortunately, by the time I reached the three-quarter point of SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I had ceased to become involved, and although I did finish it, I was not all that interested in the outcome. I was not quite convinced, once the identity of the killer(s) was revealed after a few red herrings, that it all stacked up. Fewer characters, themes and plot-lines would have made this a stronger book, so I hope that in future the author will decide that "less is more".