Title: The Guilty One
Author: Lisa Ballantyne
Release Date: March 19, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Rating: 3 out of 5
Daniel Hunter is a lawyer working in London and he lands a very difficult case. Sebastian is a beautiful eleven-year-old boy who is the prime suspect in the murder of his young friend. Daniel is horrified by the tender age of the defendant, especially because Sebastian’s circumstances remind him of his own difficult upbringing. But will his sympathy for Sebastian cloud Daniel’s judgment when it comes to Sebastian’s guilt or innocence?
The Guilty One is a tense procedural thriller about the possible actions of one young boy. Sebastian is a curious young boy with a difficult home life. Though he comes from a wealthy family, there is evidence of abuse and neglect. It’s heartbreaking to see these glimpses into Sebastian’s home life, but that doesn’t prevent him from being an unsettling character. Though it’s not clear whether he’s guilty of murder or not, the fact that he is smart and strangely interested in violence is very clear.
Daniel sympathizes with Sebastian for a very good reason in The Guilty One. Though his upbringing was different than Daniel’s (he was raised by a drug-addicted mother and eventually went into the foster-care system), he understand that feeling of aloneness. Dealing with Sebastian makes Daniel reflect on his own life and understand the mistakes he made, particularly with Minnie, the woman who eventually adopted him and loved him as her own son.
Unfortunately, The Guilty One isn’t without its flaws. The author takes her time setting up the story, and though it’s interesting, the book could have been shorter. Additionally, the flashbacks into Daniel’s past don’t share the urgency that the present day story has, and as a result, his story is a bit less interesting than Sebastian’s. And, in the end, the revelations on both accounts are actually quite predictable and aren’t as shocking as one would hope.
If you’re looking for an interesting character study, The Guilty One is a compelling choice. Both Sebastian and young Daniel are interesting characters, though neither is actually likeable, which might hamper enjoyment for some readers. It definitely is a contemplative novel, presenting difficult questions on guilt and human nature. Because of its unsettling, thought-provoking nature, this would make an excellent book club pick.