Simon Lelic’s THE CHILD WHO is a cautionary tale that has wide ramifications in the larger world. When the phone rings in Leo Curtice’s office, he grabs it and finds a custody sergeant looking for a duty solicitor available to take a case. Since his firm usually manages mundane cases such as car accidents and the like, this request is a surprise to him. But it’s a big case, and he’s going to make sure he’s the hero of the saga. He is called upon to defend Daniel Blake, a 12-year-old boy accused of killing 11-year-old Felicity Forbes. She has been missing for four weeks, and by the time Daniel is arrested, her body has been recovered.
"With supreme élan, Simon Lelic has written a fast-paced novel that draws the reader in at once."
When Leo begins to question the boy, he keeps his mouth shut. Then the child claims that he and the girl were boyfriend and girlfriend. This, of course, is untrue, and the solicitor knows it. But he keeps questioning Daniel, who claims they had sex and met often. As the cat and mouse game of questions and answers continue, the Blake family shows up. Daniel’s mother is devastated, and his stepfather is a loud-mouthed bully who only wants to keep his family’s secrets hidden.
Leo explains that Daniel will have to see a psychiatrist. The stepfather almost throws a fit and screams at Leo that that is never going to happen. Finally, Daniel confesses to the murder. That’s enough for the stepfather; he demands that Leo tell the court that they have a confession and that a trial is unnecessary. The only thing the man is concerned about is that his stepson not stand trial and embarrass the family any further.
In the meantime, Leo’s family is falling apart. His teenage daughter is shunned at school and withdraws into her bedroom. She has lost all of her friends, and her world has turned dark. As for his wife, Megan, she too has become the target of hatred and is even spit upon. She tries to convince Leo to withdraw from the case, pointing out how their family is agonizingly falling apart. She even tells him about a man’s face she saw at the window staring into the house, and how terrified she and her daughter are. But Leo has visions of how his career is going to take off now, and he won’t listen to her cries for help.
Between the chaos of Daniel’s case and his own family tension, Leo feels he is banging his head against a wall. And every time he sees Daniel, the boy seems farther and farther from reality. According to the headmistress at the children’s school, Daniel is evil, plain and simple. Some children, she says, are just born bad, and nothing can be done to save them or those with whom they come into contact.
With supreme élan, Simon Lelic has written a fast-paced novel that draws the reader in at once. His style is lean in that he writes in short sentences and keeps the narrative clean. His characters and dialogue are realistic and drawn with a fine brush. By the end of the book, readers are left to their own devices to consider what exactly would motivate a child to kill --- and especially to kill another child. THE CHILD WHO may be a fast read, but it will certainly stretch readers’ awareness and engage their minds.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on March 15, 2012