Book review: The Children’s Crusade by Elliott Hall

Like an episode of TV’s Midsomer Murders, the body count starts to rise alarmingly in the final part of Elliott Hall’s chilling and futuristic Strange Trilogy.

But this is no tongue-in-cheek village romp; in the dark and shadowy world of Private Investigator Felix Strange, killing is a serious business – deadly serious.

And while it’s always exciting to re-enter Hall’s violent and dystopian America of the future, there is also a sense of disappointment that this is our last adventure in harness with the extraordinary PI Strange.

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In true noir novel tradition, our hero is a Chandleresque private eye with a neat store of one-liners and a stubborn sense of natural justice that compels him to seek out corruption in every corner of the rotten land he now inhabits.

A veteran of a war in Iran which has left him with devastating health problems, Strange has no respect for authority, particularly the religious fundamentalists who are now running the country through a mixture of corruption and dogma.

The Revivalists and their Elder masters have surprised everyone ‘with how much sin they’d pushed to the margins with a quiet word and a gun’.

The sardonic and fearless Strange is one of the last people in the country to be taken in by the Elders’ pernicious orthodoxy and he is willing to rush in where others would fear to tread.

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That makes him the perfect private investigator and, in his final case, ideally placed to avenge the kidnapping of Iris - the only woman he has ever really loved - by Fisher Partners, America’s for-profit secret police.

Although he suspects that he won’t ever find her, he’s going to do the next best thing, ‘kill everyone involved’.

As he works his way down the list, Strange is offered a secret deal which could lead him straight to Iris.

It involves heading off to the American South where the militant Sons of David, a terrifying product of the Elders’ propaganda, are on the rise.

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Part of a generation that has been repeatedly told that they have been raised free of corrupting influences, the teenage Sons of David began as a cadet force for the children of the rich and powerful, a way for them to avoid the consequences of their own policies.

They now believe they are as pure as the Elders say, in fact more pure than those who run the country, and, unable to tell fantasy from reality, their leader, the prophet Joshua, has promised a new world to replace the old and sinful one.

To free Iris, all Strange has to do is assassinate this new messiah. There’s just one problem...Joshua is only 12 years old.

The Children’s Crusade is another rich, imaginative, superbly paced and action-packed ride which tackles weighty issues while still creating an atmospheric thriller in a landscape that is both troublingly familiar and yet fascinatingly alien.

A tense and tingling finale rounds off a top-class trilogy.

(John Murray. Paperback, £14.99)

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