Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday 6 September 2012

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

'I just want you to trust me. I'm on your side.'

Daniel Hunter has been working in London as a solicitor defending clients, including juveniles, for several years. One day, an eight-year-old boy, Ben Stokes, is found dead in a children's playground, and Daniel is assigned the case of defending Sebastian Croll, the eleven-year-old boy who is accused of murdering Ben. Daniel begins to find out more about Sebastian, his parents and his home life, and this causes him to start thinking back to his own experiences in foster care after his own mother let him down. Most of all, he thinks about Minnie, the woman he went to live with, who adopted him, cared for him and loved him, but who he believes betrayed him, and hurt him so much that he hasn't wanted anything to do with her for the past fifteen years. Daniel starts to see similarities between him younger self and Sebastian, making this case his most difficult one yet.

'Watching the doors close on Sebastian, Daniel heard his own childhood cries in the boy's desperate please. He remembered being Sebastian's age. He had been troubled. He had been capable of violence. What was it that had saved him from this fate?'

Minnie is a wonderful character, she felt ever so real to me, I could imagine her quite vividly from the way she is depicted. She has her own demons, and Daniel is like a second chance for her. Having adopted him, she loves him as her own son. She cares deeply about the young Daniel, wants to give him the opportunity for a really good life, and is able to adapt and deal with his bad behaviour, surprising him by her patient reactions, educating him about love and trust, and slowly giving him the confidence and stability to become a successful young man. In so doing, she always acts in what she believes is his best interest, but one decision she makes will irreparably damage her future relationship with him. I found the sections involving the two of them gripping and convincing, and the author creates a great dynamic between the two. 

There are real-life criminal cases which this story will inevitably bring to mind for readers in the UK, depicting as it does the alleged killing of a young boy by another young boy. In the story, the author calls into question the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system in the UK, and raises comparisons to other countries in Europe. She also touches on the media sensationalism that can accompany coverage of such crimes.

The theme of guilt, and of who is guilty, raised in the title of the novel, runs throughout, and a degree of guilt could be attributed to several of the characters here as the story unfolds. 

The most compelling aspects of the novel for me were the touching relationship between Minnie and Daniel when he was younger, how this evolved, and then the court case itself. I felt that Daniel's story was far more compelling actually than that of Sebastian, perhaps due to the fact that Daniel's backstory and childhood recollections, together with the observations of how he is now as a man, give us a much fuller, rounder picture of him, and how he came to be a solicitor, and we learn a lot less about Sebastian in comparison.

The structure of the narrative sees the two strands of the story running parallel to each other, with alternating chapters devoted to Daniel's past, and to his present and the case involving Sebastian. This structure works really well here, as Daniel sees aspects of himself in Sebastian, and the reader learns more about Daniel then and now, and we can observe how his understanding of himself and his past develops as the case involving Sebastian progresses, and also begin to question whether his memories of himself are clouding his judgment now. 'His mind was a confusion of recent and distant memories.'

I found this a very addictive read, a complete and utter page-turner that I wanted to get back to whenever I'd had to put it down, and I read it over a couple of days. It certainly has all the ingredients of a gripping read, and the author builds character and suspense very well indeed, so that as we reach the stage of the court case, and the turning point in the relationship between Daniel and his new mum Minnie, I found myself even more eager to read on. I guessed at what had happened regarding Minnie and Daniel, which is possible to do if you've been reading the novel carefully prior to this. It became more of a matter of why, than of what, with regards to the event which had separated him from her. I felt the quality of the writing, starting quite simply, got better as the novel progressed, and all in all this is a very promising debut work. 

Published by Piatkus

I've read and reviewed another novel covering some similar ground to this, The Child Who by Simon Lelic, which I would also highly recommend.

Reviewed for Amazon Vine


  1. You always read such emotional books! I want to pick them up after reading your great reviews but am too afraid of ending in a puddle of tears!

  2. I picked this up in the library after reading your review. I'm finding it a little slow, but still compelling.

    1. I really hope you find it picks up, I thought it got better as it went along.

  3. Wonderful review, Lindsay. This sounds like my kind of thing, I'll definitely look out for it :-)

    1. Thanks very much for your kind comment Helen :) Look forward to reading your thoughts on this one if you read it.


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