The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

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19164638

Kindle Edition, 478 pages

Published: March 19, 2013 by William Morrow (1st published 2012)

Setting: England

Recommended By: Several book bloggers including Jennifer at The Relentless Reader

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London solicitor Daniel Hunter is representing Sebastian, an eleven-year-old boy accused of killing a younger child. Sebastian, who may be on the autism spectrum, often has an unsettlingly inappropriate affect. He also seems to have a morbid fascination with death. Sebastian is also a damaged child from a violent home.

This case is very personal to Daniel, as — in some ways — Sebastian’s situation echoes his own childhood. Daniel is also pulled into the past by learning that his adoptive mother is critically ill. This summons old demons. Daniel struggles with a tremendous amount of anger, and behind the anger is sadness and guilt.

Two threads comprise this novel. One is a solid, well-paced courtroom thriller. It offers a critique of the juvenile justice system and the problem of trial by media, which reminded me a bit of Boy A by Jonathan Trigell. The other, told in alternating chapters, is Daniel’s childhood story, including his protectiveness toward his fragile, drug-addicted mother and his relationship with his foster mother.

For me, the first thread is the stronger of the two; this book works better as a courtroom thriller than as a character-driven novel. The second thread isn’t bad by any means. It absorbed my interest, and it’s an interesting and moving story. However, I never fully got to know Daniel. He seemed somewhat removed from the reader, as he was from the people in his life. And Sebastian was as much an enigma to me at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning. Perhaps, given the nature of these characters and the style of the novel, this is fitting, but I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied.

Overall, I found this to be a beautifully written, well crafted, and believable novel that raises thought-provoking questions about the justice system and the effects of violence and other trauma on young children. I will be on the lookout for other books by this author.

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