Top critical review
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on 8 April 2013
The Guilty One is Scottish author Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel.
Ballantyne's premise is based on headlines we're all seen in newspapers - horrible, inexplicable crimes - children murdering children.
Solicitor Daniel Hunter is called to take on the defense of eleven year old Sebastian. The charge is murdering his eight year old neighbour in a playground across from their homes. Initially reluctant, Daniel changes his mind after interviewing Sebastian. The boy reminds him of himself at that age.. Sebastian's home life is less than idyllic. Daniel's was downright turbulent - until a steadying hand entered his life. But still, there is something a bit off about the boy....
Ballantyne tells the story in alternating chapters from Daniel's viewpoint - past and present. As he seeks to defend Sebastian, we slowly but surely relive his own childhood. But could Daniel be letting his own emotions and experiences cloud his judgement? This is an effective technique - curiousity had me wanting to read just one more chapter....
I enjoyed Daniel's backstory very much. Minnie, the woman who takes on the young Daniel, was an absolutely wonderful character. Ballantyne does an excellent job depicting a child trying to cope with anger, loss and grief. The more we read of Daniel's story, we realize that he has not truly ever put those days behind him. He is still carrying around much anger and guilt.
But, the present day chapters dealing with the trial just didn't seem as 'fleshed out' to me. Although we get some details regarding Sebastian's home life, they are never really explored. Sebastian as a character is well drawn - his comments, thoughts and mannerisms all paint a picture of a disturbed, creepy child. But does that make him guilty?
The trial scenes were well done, but the middle of the book seemed to drag a bit, with some ground seeming to be covered over and over again.
Ballantyne explores guilt with every character in mind - in addition to our two lead characters - the parents, neighbours and society all hold a degree of blame. The Guilty One is a disturbing comment on today's society.
However, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending - it was almost predictable, as was the 'revelation' of Daniel's story. Still, I thought this was a really good debut.