The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

The Guilty One by Lisa BallantyneGuilty One

Published: March, 2013 (William Morrow)

Format: Kindle E-Book

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

I Categorized It As: Mystery/Thriller & Popular Fiction

My Rating: 4/5 (Thumbs Up)

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 that 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 a moving and compelling 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 well crafted, believable, and engaging book that raises thought-provoking questions about the justice system and the effects of violence and other trauma on young children. I definitely think future novels by this author are worth a look.

Memorable Quotes:

  • He felt both close to her and distant , as if she were a reflection he could see in a window or a lake.He felt both close to her and distant , as if she were a reflection he could see in a window or a lake. (p. 99)
  • Her pain never seemed to lessen. Each year it would return with the same ferocity, like a perennial frost. (p. 101)
  • They shook hands. Daniel felt Cunningham’s short, hard grip as conflicted, communicating the unsaid. It reminded him of handshakes he had given to clients after the judge had sent them down. Kindness delivered with quick violence. (p. 112)
  • Fear’s like pain, it’s there in your life to teach you about yourself.
    (p. 182)
  • The photo she had left him … It must have been the late sixties , early seventies: the colors were brighter, happier than real-life colors, as if they had been painted, snatched from the imagination instead of life. (p. 244)
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