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The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
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The Guilty One (2012)

by Lisa Ballantyne

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English (18)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All (22)
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The Guilty One is an unconventional crime novel that takes its inspiration from the chilling modern phenomenon of violent crimes committed by children against other children. Daniel Hunter is a successful London lawyer in mid-career with a reputation for working with young offenders. When he is approached to take on the case of 11-year-old Sebastian Croll, he does not hesitate to accept. Sebastian is accused of the chaotic and bloody murder of 8-year-old Ben Stokes, whose body was discovered in a playground. Because he grew up in an unstable household—with an unreliable, drug-addicted mother whose boyfriends often beat him—and subsequently committed a variety of offences himself, Daniel is sensitive to Sebastian’s plight. Daniel knows he was lucky, even though he was removed from his home and placed in foster care. Daniel’s anger and often violent behaviour marked him as a hard case, and as a last resort he ended up with Minnie Flynn, an older woman living on a run-down farm in Brampton. Having grown up in the city of Newcastle, Daniel initially found Minnie’s hand to mouth existence and simple ways foolish and odd. Distrustful of all adults, he lashed out and repeatedly ran away, in search of his mother. However, Minnie was patient with him and refused to be intimidated. She let Daniel know that she understood his fear but that she also had expectations. Eventually, Daniel accepted his new situation and settled into life on the farm, even agreeing to let Minnie formally adopt him. Flash forward 25 or so years. Daniel knows what it is like to be small, helpless, and forced into a place where he doesn’t feel he belongs. He knows what it’s like to be so angry that hurting other people seems to make sense. His heart goes out to Sebastian Croll, but does empathy cloud his judgment? The case against Sebastian moves forward. The prosecution produces an eye-witness who saw the boys together on the afternoon of the murder, and others from Sebastian’s school and the neighbourhood where the crime took place who characterize Sebastian as a bully incapable of friendship. Though Daniel sometimes finds Sebastian unsettling and regards the boy’s interest in things related to death and blood unnatural, he tries not to let it distract him from his job. Moreover, Daniel can see that Sebastian has been affected by a less than ideal home life, with a self-medicating mother and a pushy, short-tempered father. Lisa Ballantyne’s novel proceeds along dual narrative lines: one thread following the case and Daniel’s defense strategy, the other showing us Daniel’s difficult childhood. The Guilty One is a smartly constructed novel that doles out clues in a deliberate manner, drawing the reader through its layered and complex plot toward a satisfying conclusion. In Daniel Hunter, Ballantyne has created an attractive and engaging protagonist, a young man riddled with self-doubt and regret, but also intelligent and self-aware. In this largely successful and highly entertaining debut novel, Lisa Ballantyne has written a dark and suspenseful legal procedural with a deeply affecting human dimension. ( )
  icolford | Jul 26, 2017 |
This novel is more than a crime novel; it is an exploration on the damage that can be (and is) done to children by the unthinking acts of their parents. This is a story of a damaged boy made good defending a damaged boy who is a sociopath and the memories elicited by their interaction. Very well written and excellent character development. ( )
  Maureen_McCombs | Aug 19, 2016 |
Daniel Hunter is no stranger to lost causes. In fact, there was a time, not too long ago, when he himself was seen as a lost cause. His mother was a junkie, so he spent most of his childhood dependent upon the state to place him in proper care. He always felt a constant need to look after his mother, even sacrificing his own needs for her benefit.

Fast forward a few years, and Daniel is a successful solicitor working in London. His own troubled background has provided him with the unique ability to defend troubled youth. After the unexpected death of an eight-year-old boy, found dead in a playground, he is called to defend the eleven-year-old neighbor, Sebastian Croll, accused of murdering the other boy. Instantly, Daniel feels a connection to Sebastian. The young boy is surprisingly aware of his situation, and consistently declares his innocence. But there is something unsettling about the boy. He seems strangely fascinated with the details of the other boy's death, and displays an unusual interest in topics that most would find disturbing.

The only flaw I could find with this book was that at 445 pages it was about 100 pages too long. There was so much background on Daniel's early years that you just wanted to yell at the author to get on with it. t.it would have been nice if the trial could have had more detail and we could have had more insight into Sabastian's personality before the accused crime. But overall it was interesting and well worth the time to read.
( )
  Carol420 | May 31, 2016 |
In The Guilty One, Lisa Ballantyne's debut novel, eleven-year-old Sebastian Croll is accused of killing an eight-year-old neighbor. Daniel Hunter is his assigned solicitor for the defense. While trying to defend Sebastian, Daniel reflects on his own very troubled childhood. The case coincides with the death of Minnie, the woman who was Daniel's foster parent and who later adopted him.

Daniel had cut off all contact with Minnie, but the trial and Minnie's death has made Daniel introspective - pondering his past actions while defending a present day troubled child. The chapters alternate between the uneasy and anxious present day defense and trial of Sebastian with the disturbed and resentful past of Daniel. As we slowly follow the progress of Sebastian's case we also learn more about Daniel's past until both storylines culminate in some uneasy revelations and insight. Minnie both betrayed and saved Daniel. Will the same be said about Sebastian, who is currently living in a very dysfunctional family.

Ballantyne expertly delves into this tense exploration of childhood violence and the root causes of its manifestation, and, ultimately, the potential power of forgiveness and redemption of love. We know the two mysteries right at the start: Sebastian may have killed a child and Daniel has been estranged for 15 years from his now deceased mother. What keeps you reading with breakneck anticipation is the slowly revealed facts about both mysteries. Daniel certainly had anger and rage inside him as a child and Minnie had the patience of a saint with him. Why was he estranged from her? Is Sebastian also filled with uncontrollable rage, or was it a stranger who killed 8 year old Benjamin?

I appreciated the alternating chapters and the unfolding of both stories. The writing is superb and the descriptions are atmospheric and very realistic. (Some descriptions are intense and could be disturbing for some readers.) All I can say is that I flew through this book and was very satisfied with the conclusion of both the story lines. Yes, I did cringe at times, and my heart broke at other points, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery that I very highly recommend.


Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.


( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
UGH! Not only was this book hard to get through I am getting to the end and she talks about how Asperger's makes you violent and more intense!!! Where did she get her research? ( )
  Lisa_Boys | Feb 8, 2016 |
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The soul in darkness sins, but the real sinner is he who caused the darkness.  - Victor Hugo, Les Miserable
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To My Family
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The air smelled of gunpowder when Daniel emerged from Angel tube and headed for Islington Police Station.
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SOME THINGS CAN NEVER BE FORGIVEN... An eight year old boy is found dead in a playground...and his eleven-year-old neighbor is accused of the crime.  London solicitor Daniel Hunter cannot help but feel protective toward his new client, Sebastian.  Wading into the muddy depths of the boy's troubled home life, Daniel is reminded of his own precarious childhood-and the woman whose love saved him.  Wise and accepting, Minnie offered Daniel stability and hope.  But one terrible act of betrayal shattered their bond and drove him away.  What crime did Minnie commit that made Daniel ignore her for fifteen years?  Will Daniel's sympathy for a child on trial for murder blind him to the truth?  what happened in the park-and who, ultimately, is to blame for a little boy's death?  As past and present collide, Daniel begins to question everything he ever believed in-and to finally understand what it means to be wrong...and to be the guilty one.  (ARC)
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London solicitor Daniel Hunter finds his life changed when he meets an eleven-year-old boy accused of murdering an eight-year-old boy--a case that forces him to confront his own childhood and unearths memories he'd long buried.

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