THE GUILTY ONE
Written by Lisa Ballentyn
Review written by LJ Hurst
Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Released: 30th August 2012
Child murderers and suspected child murderers are rare in reality. In fiction they are coming thick and fast, though I suppose we need to discriminate between those who have been arrested recently and those with a death in the past.
The two that I have read this year, Steve Mosby’s DARK ROOM and John J Niven’s COLD HANDS, both feature killers who have grown up. Other early readers of Lisa Ballantyne’s first novel have made comparisons with Alex Warwood's THE WICKED GIRLS and Simon Lelic's THE CHILD WHO, which I don’t pretend to have read. That Lelic novel is also said to feature a solicitor having to deal with a suspected child killer, like Ballantyne’s protagonist, Daniel Hunter. Whether he has all of Hunter’s hang-ups I cannot say, but Hunter has a lot of problems, from his history which we quickly pick up from a letter he reads on returning from the custody suite, to his inability to jog without falling over and cutting himself.
Between case reviews and interviews with his eleven year old client, Sebastian Croll, and talking to Sebastian’s mother (and father, when the father returns), we learn something (perhaps a lot, a lot more than we learn about Sebastian, ultimately) of Daniel’s history. Lisa Ballantyne flashes back to the north country and a troubled boy delivered by his social worker to a remote farm. There on the Northumbrian/Cumbrian borders Daniel’s troubles are worked out, as Minnie his foster mother accepts him with all his problems, showing patience with his thieving and misanthropy. We also learn why Minnie is alone on her farm – two recent suspicious deaths. All that fades into the past as Daniel grows up with Minnie’s help. Why then has he turned his back on her?
Daniel Hunter remains an unattractive character, but there are three people in Lisa Ballantyne’s novel, and any one of them in one sense or another could be “the guilty one”, while only one could be said to be innocent, suspect though she has been. Somebody else could say, “I blame the parents”, something Daniel is unable to do.
And Sebastian? He knows his family is dysfunctional. He knows the long-sleeved tops his mother wears to hide the bruises, he says so explicitly to his solicitor. He is articulate, though still young enough to want his mum, while some of his interests indicate either maturity or Asperger’s, and despite his protestations he goes to trial, with Hunter briefing his defence barrister. Perhaps not everything Sebastian says before the trial is the truth, but what he says afterwards may not be either.
All of the books I mention here offer something different or additional, a variation on this ghastly crime. THE GUILTY ONE adds to the choice.