Our Autumn 2012 Book Club winner!
The Guilty One by Lisa BallantyneA little boy was found dead in a children's playground...Daniel Hunter has spent years defending lost causes as a solicitor in London. But his life changes when he is introduced to Sebastian, an eleven-year-old accused of murdering an innocent young boy. As he plunges into the muddy depths of Sebastian's troubled home life, Daniel thinks back to his own childhood in foster care - and to Minnie, the woman whose love saved him, until she, too, betrayed him so badly that he cut her out of his life. But what crime did Minnie commit that made Daniel disregard her for fifteen years? And will Daniel's identification with a child on trial for murder make him question everything he ever believed in?
WHSmith Edition now contains Exclusive Bonus material including...
Reading Group Questions
Author interview with Richard and Judy
Lisa Ballantyne’s reading list
Lisa Ballantyne shares what is on her bookshelf
The top-ten things Lisa Ballantyne has learned about writing a novel
One of the most readable, emotionally intense novels of the year, and a debut one at that. Lisa Ballantyne pulls off the key writer’s trick of getting us to care about the characters; by the end of the first chapter, you will be comprehensively on the hook.
The backdrop to The Guilty One has powerful overtones of the horrific real-life case of James Bulger, the Liverpool toddler who was murdered in cold blood by two ten-year-old boys. Ballantyne’s opening shocker is similar; eleven year old Sebastian stands accused of killing Ben Stokes, eight. They lived in the same street and Ben’s bloodied body has been found in a nearby playground. The circumstantial evidence against Sebastian is strong: he was the last person to be seen with the younger child and, damningly, traces of Ben’s blood are on his clothes.
Into the picture comes Daniel Hunter, a solicitor who for years has defended seemingly lost causes. His immediate instinct is to believe Sebastian’s steadfast denials of any involvement in the murder. But there is something odd about the boy; he seems unusually emotionally mature and barely ruffled by his predicament. And when the grisly details of the killing are put to Sebastian by police, he takes a detached, almost intellectual interest.
But the murder is almost a backdrop to Ballantyne’s main story. Daniel, we quickly discover, has a past. The tall, handsome, confident solicitor was once a very different creature indeed.
To say Daniel Hunter had a damaged childhood would be an understatement. His early childhood was chaotic, living with his single, drug-addicted mother. Repeatedly taken into care and lodged with foster-families, the boy grows up angry, distrustful, and disturbed. All he wants is to be back with his mother, but every time the authorities allow that to happen she quickly falls back into addiction and he is separated from her yet again.
Finally, aged eleven, Daniel is sent to live with Minnie, an experienced foster mother who runs a small farm in Cumbria. Minnie too has been scarred by tragedy – her daughter and husband are dead – and now she devotes her life to helping damaged children.
At first Daniel hates her and her farm. On his very first evening there he pulls a knife on Minnie as she prepares supper, but is confounded by her calmness when he threatens her. ‘Aren’t you scared?’ he demands.
‘No, love, and if you’d lived my life you wouldn’t be scared either. Now get that last tomato chopped.’
Minnie, it turns out, is to be Daniel’s saviour. With endless patience, she coaxes out the child who hides behind Daniel’s defiant, aggressive mask, and shows him the love he has been desperate for all his life.
So why, as the grown-up Daniel fights to prove Sebastian’s innocence, does he now hate Minnie? Why has he banished her from his life? What was the great betrayal he can never forgive her for?
Sebastian, Daniel, or Minnie - who is the guilty one?
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