An eight year old boy has been found dead in a play park and his eleven year old friend stands accused of his murder That is the stark reality at the start of The Guilty One. Is Sebastian Croll the guilty one though, as suggested by the title of Lisa Ballantyne’s first gripping novel or is he as innocent as he proclaims? Whether he is guilty or not, it is his lawyer, Daniel Hunter’s job to defend him. However, as Daniel learns more about Sebastian’s life, he cannot help thinking back to his own boyhood in foster care and how he could have quite easily ended up in the same position as Sebastian.
The Guilty One is really two stories in one. Firstly, there is the story surrounding the murder of young Ben Stokes and the subsequent police investigation that leads to a riveting murder trial. The reader slowly learns of the evidence and the apparent circumstances that led to Ben’s tragic death one sunny summer afternoon. They also get to know Sebastian, a strange, friendless boy, mature beyond his years, with a privileged but troubled home life. This story culminates in some tense thrilling court scenes that are absolutely gripping. I found this part of the book impossible to put down. All the way through I did not know whether Sebastian had been responsible for Ben’s death and it was impossible to predict the trial’s outcome.
The second story involves Sebastian’s lawyer, Daniel and it concerns his upbringing. Although he is now very successful in his career, this was not always the case as he spent his childhood in a series of unsuccessful foster placements. That was until, at the age of eleven, he was taken in by Minnie who was the first person, in his entire life, to actually believe in him. She eventually came to adopt him, but the reader learns that they have been estranged all of Daniel’s adult life because of one time when Minnie betrayed him so deeply that he could never bring himself to forgive her. This creates a sense of mystery that leads the reader to be constantly wondering what terrible crime Minnie could have committed that would lead to Daniel’s complete loathing and abandonment of his adoptive mother.
I really enjoyed the parallel stories and was gripped equally by both. I thought that they complemented each other well and it was possible to draw comparisons between both stories. The court scenes were so compelling and I loved the drama of the calling of various witnesses and the cross examinations. Daniel’s story was very moving and also intriguing. The characters felt very real and it was easy to believe in them. It was also fascinated to read about the elements of foster care and also how young offenders are treated by the courts.
The Guilty One is an extremely well crafted début novel and I enjoyed it from start to finish. It was very well paced and my interest didn’t wane for a second. I shall definitely be looking out for Lisa Ballantyne’s second novel.
The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
Published by Piatkus, August 2012
With thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.
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