Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne | The Angel Killer

The Guilty One is Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel. According to the publisher, the crime fiction book is bound to be a success, and based on the unusual and unsettling topic, I can definitely see it getting a lot of attention.

11-year old Sebastian Croll is accused of the murder of 8-year old Ben Stokes. Having been spotted fighting on the day of the crime, and with blood traces on his clothes, things are not looking good for the strange Sebastian who claims to have been with his fragile mother at the time the crime was committed. We follow Sebastian's attorney, Daniel Hunter, as the case forces Daniel to take a closer look on his own troubled childhood.

At 35, Daniel is a successful London attorney, but Sebastian reminds him that at his age, Daniel lived a very different life. With an absent father and a drug addict mother, the young Daniel is used to fighting, running, and always worrying about his mother. When he is placed with the foster mother Minnie on a country farm, Daniel manages to turn his life around. However, when Minnie does the unforgivable, Daniel walks out of her life and never looks back. Until now.

There is a strong link between "the Angel Killer" case and Daniel's own childhood problems. Daniel feels a tie to Sebastian, who seems to look up to him. If Sebastian is found guilty, he will be thrown into a prison system which will only worsen his problems. In the book we learn that in the UK, children are from the age of 10 considered legally responsible. In my home country of Norway, and the rest of Scandinavia, the age is 15. That said, there was a tragic case in Sweden in 2011 where a 10-year old child killed a 4-year old child on a playground. Because the perpetrator was a minor, child welfare took over. In the UK, however, that is not the case, and Sebastian risks actual prison sentence if he is found guilty.

The Guilty One is at times really creepy. There is obviously something up with Sebastian, guilty or not. The court case details were really interesting, and it is unusual get the perspective of the accused and the defender instead of the victim and prosecutor. The story of Daniel was also well developed. Minnie is just a great, complex character, and so is Daniel.

What I really enjoyed about this novel is the social commentary and the way nothing is clear cut. There are no innocents in this novel, everyone is guilty in some way. It is also nice that not everything is resolved or put out in the open. There are still aspects that are left to the imagination.

Well done on your first novel, Ballantyne. I wouldn't mind revisiting Daniel some time in the future.

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