The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
Solicitor Daniel Hunter is defending Sebastian Croll, an eleven-year old accused of murdering his eight-year old neighbour – a case with deliberate echoes of the killing of Jamie Bulger. Sebastian is a troubled child, bright and charming, but with a dark side to his character. The question of Sebastian's guilt or innocence is artfully explored by first-time novelist Ballantyne, and as Daniel begins to identify more and more with Sebastian, he begins to unravel the secrets of his own past.
His foster-mother Minnie has recently died, and Daniel struggles to forgive her for a past transgression. Ballantyne's prose is literary without being ornate, and she handles potentially mawkish, sentimental scenes with the right amount of tenderness and impartiality. The characters, particularly Daniel and Sebastian, have convincing depth. Ballantyne's switchback narrative plunges us in and out of Daniel's past and Sebastian's trial, asking interesting questions about guilt, innocence, and complicity. An assured, confident debut, combining the humanist outlook of Denise Mina with taut courtroom drama. [Bram E. Gieben]