A big fat novel set in the north east of England as the Labour Party reinvents itself over eighteen years of Conservative government, Richard T Kelly’s Crusaders immediately brings Our Friends in the North to mind. But while there may be a must see TV miniseries here, this is a very different animal.
The early promise is a drama to illuminate the role of Christian Socialism in New Labour. Protagonist John Gore has been a party member since he was fourteen and moves to the inner city as a priest on a mission to plant a church; that is build something new in an apparently godless place.
Ten years on from Labour’s 1997 election victory, Gore’s suspicions of his local New Labour MP, Martin Pallister, are understandable but don’t really ring true in context; especially as he is so very naïve in every other aspect of his life. It’s hard to understand why Gore fails to grasp the opportunity to play a key role in the project, a failure that effectively lands him on the sidelines.
But Gore does have much else on his mind. The politics gives way to his affair with single mother Lindy Clark and his relationship with local gangster Stevie Coulson, who presumably sees donating to the church as a route to salvation.
Gore’s descent into the criminal underworld enables Kelly to quicken the pace, up the drama and tension and provide the novel with a suitably violent and satisfying conclusion.
Overall, Crusaders is not as heavy as it first appears. It’s an entertaining, at times gripping, read.