The Guilty One
In the mini essay that's included in the readers' guide at the end of THE GUILTY ONE, author Lisa Ballantyne relates an anecdote about the book's original copy editor, who was genuinely surprised to learn that Ballantyne herself is not a social worker, lawyer, or psychiatrist. Readers may also be surprised to learn this --- that's the level of confidence and authenticity that she brings to her first novel, which touches on all these fields. THE GUILTY ONE is a complex narrative that brings together the past and the present during one man's involvement with a particularly gruesome murder case.
"Lisa Ballantyne's debut is already a huge hit overseas, and its combination of psychological insight with great plotting and some really terrific courtroom scenes seem to suggest that it will find enthusiastic readers on this side of the Atlantic as well."
In his mid-30s, Daniel Hunter would seem to have his life all together. He's a solicitor living in London, an attractive and fit man who could have his pick of women. His work is fulfilling, if at times frustrating. But his comfortable, successful demeanor belies a troubled past, one from which he has purposefully distanced himself for the past 15 years. Daniel spent his early years shuttled back and forth from his drug-addicted mother and her series of violent boyfriends to a number of foster homes. At each home and at every school Daniel failed repeatedly, acting out or running away until his social worker was forced to find another placement for him.
That all seems to change, though, when the 11-year-old is placed with Minnie Flynn, a middle-aged widow who seems completely unphased by Daniel's violent threats and actually becomes fond of the boy, who had previously thought himself unlovable. Daniel appears to respond well to Minnie's tough love and to life on her small farm, recognizing in Minnie --- who has suffered more than her share of losses --- a kindred spirit. But something caused Daniel to lose trust in Minnie when, as Daniel started out for college, he discovered a betrayal that he never has been able to forgive.
Daniel learns of Minnie's death just as he is embarking on what appears to be his toughest defense case yet. He has been asked to defend an 11-year-old boy, Sebastian, who has been accused of bludgeoning his eight-year-old neighbor to death. Sebastian is both vulnerable and oddly mature, and his story and personality remind Daniel of the troubled, damaged child he himself once was. Sebastian's story and Minnie's death combine to force Daniel to revisit his own past, even as he passionately strives to give another child a better future.
Lisa Ballantyne's debut is already a huge hit overseas, and its combination of psychological insight with great plotting and some really terrific courtroom scenes seem to suggest that it will find enthusiastic readers on this side of the Atlantic as well. Daniel's story alternates chapters between past and present, and readers can see the child in the man as they come to understand the complex forces that go into making --- and redeeming --- a "bad kid." THE GUILTY ONE will appeal to fans of Tana French, Laura Lippman, and other writers who combine psychological insight with solid mystery writing.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 29, 2013