The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
Trade Paperback, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062195517 http://www.lisaballantyne.com/
An eight-year-old boy is found dead in a playground . . . and his eleven-year-old neighbor is accused of the crime. Leading the defense is London solicitor Daniel Hunter, a champion of lost causes.
A damaged boy from a troubled home, Daniel's young client, Sebastian, reminds Daniel of his own turbulent childhood—and of Minnie, the devoted woman whose love saved him. But one terrible act of betrayal irrevocably shattered their bond.
As past and present collide, Daniel is faced with disturbing questions. Will his sympathy for Sebastian and his own memories blind him to the truth? What happened in the park—and who, ultimately, is to blame for a little boy's death? Rethinking everything he's ever believed, Daniel begins to understand what it means to be wrong . . . and to be the guilty one.
In The Guilty One, Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel, eleven-year-old Sebastian Croll is accused of killing an eight-year-old neighbor. Daniel Hunter is his assigned solicitor for the defense. While trying to defend Sebastian, Daniel reflects on his own very troubled childhood. The case coincides with the death of Minnie, the woman who was Daniel's foster parent and who later adopted him.
Daniel had cut off all contact with Minnie, but the trial and Minnie's death has made Daniel introspective - pondering his past actions while defending a present day troubled child. The chapters alternate between the uneasy and anxious present day defense and trial of Sebastian with the disturbed and resentful past of Daniel. As we slowly follow the progress of Sebastian's case we also learn more about Daniel's past until both storylines culminate in some uneasy revelations and insight. Minnie both betrayed and saved Daniel. Will the same be said about Sebastian, who is currently living in a very dysfunctional family.
Ballantyne expertly delves into this tense exploration of childhood violence and the root causes of its manifestation, and, ultimately, the potential power of forgiveness and redemption of love. We know the two mysteries right at the start: Sebastian may have killed a child and Daniel has been estranged for 15 years from his now deceased mother. What keeps you reading with breakneck anticipation is the slowly revealed facts about both mysteries. Daniel certainly had anger and rage inside him as a child and Minnie had the patience of a saint with him. Why was he estranged from her? Is Sebastian also filled with uncontrollable rage, or was it a stranger who killed 8 year old Benjamin?
I appreciated the alternating chapters and the unfolding of both stories. The writing is superb and the descriptions are atmospheric and very realistic. (Some descriptions are intense and could be disturbing for some readers.) All I can say is that I flew through this book and was very satisfied with the conclusion of both the story lines. Yes, I did cringe at times, and my heart broke at other points, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery that I
Very Highly Recommend.
Lisa Ballantyne was born in Armadale, West Lothian, Scotland and was educated at Armadale Academy and University of St Andrews. She spent most of her twenties working and living in China, before returning to the UK in 2002, to work in Higher Education. She lives in Glasgow; this is her first novel.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes.