Friday 21 September 2012

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

A little boy was found dead in a children's playground...
Daniel Hunter has spent years defending lost causes as a solicitor in London. But his life changes when he is introduced to Sebastian, an eleven-year-old accused of murdering an innocent young boy.
As he plunges into the muddy depths of Sebastian's troubled home life, Daniel thinks back to his own childhood in foster care - and to Minnie, the woman whose love saved him, until she, too, betrayed him so badly that he cut her out of his life.
But what crime did Minnie commit that made Daniel disregard her for fifteen years? And will Daniel's identification with a child on trial for murder make him question everything he ever believed in?

The Guilty One is the debut novel from Lisa Ballantyne and was published by Piatkus on 30 August 2012.  Billed as 'The International Debut Phenomenon" and also picked for the WH Smith Richard & Judy Book Club 2012, this novel has had a massive amount of publicity, and is set to be a best-seller.

The Guilty One is two stories in one, both featuring Daniel Hunter.   Daniel is a successful London lawyer and has just taken on a highly-sensitive case.  Defending Sebastian who is accused of murdering eight year old Ben Stokes.    Sebastian is eleven years old.     Daniel himself did not have an easy childhood. His mother was an addict, his father was absent, in and out of care for years and finally adopted by the formidable Minnie when he was a teenager.  Minnie has recently died and the reader learns that Daniel had felt betrayed by her, they had not spoken for years before her death.

Lisa Ballantyne appears to have effortlessly weaved the two stories together.  The story alternates back and forward; the present-day murder case and then flash backs to Daniel's youth.  The short, sharp chapters keep the reader engaged with this fast-paced, often distressing story.  Daniel's relationship with Minnie develops and their love and respect for each other grows, yet the reader knows that all will not end well, the sense of anticipation builds and builds.  The present-day court case is also handled extremely well, Lisa Ballantyne has obviously researched the subject very well, portraying the defendant very realistically.

Lisa Ballantyne
Within the dialogue of the novel is contained some discussion about the British justice system and the question of the age of criminal responsibility here in comparison to other European countries.  Although this is a fictional account, one cannot help but compare it to some of the real cases that have been very high profile over recent years.  The question of the age of criminal responsibility could be debated for ever, with each side having very good arguments for their case.
I worked within a Youth Offending Team as a mentor for over five years and I was very impressed by just how realistic Lisa Ballantyne's novel is.  She has shied away from the emotion and concentrated on the stern reality that is the justice system but also allows the reader to gain some insight into what can, and often does happen in a child's life that puts them on the path to the Youth Court.

I've been very impressed by this novel, it's fast-paced and gripping and kept me guessing up until the end.  It's realistic and often intense, the characters are excellently drawn.  I especially enjoyed the ending, and the fact that it reflects real life in that many readers will consider it flawed and unfinished - but that's what life is!

Lisa Ballantyne has a website here and also has a Facebook page here

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