In The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne, we encounter Sebastian. He is a troubled friend of the deceased eight-year-old Ben. He was observed scuffling with Ben, has a tense home life, and is quite precocious. After an eyewitness comes forward, Sebastian is arrested for murder. He finds a champion in London solicitor, Daniel Hunter.
Daniel Hunter has his own troubled past. As the child of a drug addicted mother, he was used to taking care of himself. He built a wall of protection to insulate himself from the cold world in which he was forced to live. Finally, after his mother teeters too close to the edge of oblivion, Daniel is removed from his home and placed with the eccentric but loving Minnie. Minnie, the proprietress of a local hobby farm, gives Daniel the care and firmness he needs in order to recover from his disordered childhood. Her commitment to Daniel grows, even as he attempts to work out his feelings toward his mother and the system that has removed him from her care. Minnie has endured her own losses and as such, is able to help Daniel navigate his way to a peaceful life. When it seems that Daniel has finally found a place of belonging, an act of duplicity destroys a relationship that has taken years to build.
Sebastian, meanwhile, is kept in custody for the murder, and it is Daniel’s sworn duty to defend him. Not only is Daniel doing his job, but also he is fighting for the young child he once was, as well as for Sebastian, who may be innocent.
While I normally have problems with books that have story lines that switch from the past to the future, since Daniel was the focus of each of the story lines, I felt digging into his past helped me understand his present actions. Daniel is the true hero of this novel. Set adrift by the irresponsibility of his mother, he tries to navigate the world while maintaining the little stability that he has. He is fiercely protective of his birth mother, and he does not understand the reasons behind his childhood rages. He is unable to understand the consequences of his actions, and it is only through the love of Minnie that he is able to become a reasonably emotionally well man. I wanted to hug Daniel—or go adopt a foster child of my own. The complexity of his character, the damage that he endured, and the love that he was eventually able to feel made me feel a special affinity for him.
I did not care as much about the murder trial of Sebastian. While I was not able to deduce who was responsible before the final reveal, I did not connect so much with Sebastian’s character. I felt no special understanding of him. I worried about him mostly because Daniel did.
The Guilty One does provide some commentary on the governments’ effort to assist children in crisis, as well as the British judicial system. But, overall, this novel worked extremely well for me as a character study rather than a who-dun-it. Heartbreaking and compelling, The Guilty One was a pleasure to read.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina