Our Autumn 2012 Book Club winner!

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

A 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?

Reviews & Comments

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  • Quite the most gripping and thought proving read of the year. Beautifully drawn characters who hold your attention throughout and a story that makes your heart ache for them.


  • A Fantastic debut novel which I thoroughly enjoyed and have recommended to a number of my friends The theme of guilt, and of who is guilty, raised in the title of the novel, runs throughout, and a degree of guilt could be attributed to several of the characters as the story unfolds. Gripping story from start to end. A must read.


  • I read this book in about 3 days. Some bits I found emotionally dificult to read especially the part when he is sent for a few days trial to a foster family. Excellent.

    Dorothy McIndoe (nee Smith)

  • Engrossing crime book that gets better as you read it. As the story builds it essentially become a court room drama, engrossing the reader who will want to find out what happens to Sebastian, however more importantly why Daniel's relationship with his adoptive mother Minnie went so terribly wrong. Excellent debut novel by Lisa Ballantyne, I look forward to reading her next book.


  • Loved this book ... a really good story, well told.

    Rhoda Blair

  • A superb book. A real page turner. I would recommend this highly to anyone who enjoys a cliffhanger read. Very very good. Easy to empathise with all the characters.


  • Great read. Very insightful. Have recommended the book to family and friends worldwide. Looking forward to Lisa's next book.


  • Enthralling read with well defined characters. Moving and emotion stirring read. Who is responsible for this compelling work? Lisa Ballantyne...would be the " Guilty One"


  • This is a book you must read totaly absorbing. Brilliant writer hard to believe it is her first book. Looking forward to her next book


  • Great read, characters are excellent really feel you got to know them, discriptive writing at its best. Thrilling story kept you guessing as you go through this journey of social crime and self discovery. Recommended read!!


  • I must be one of the very few who did not fall in love with this book. I have since read far better books (such as Sister, This Perfect World) and this book simply does not compare. It did not like the way it was written, and the characters did not seem believable. I didn't connect with the characters at all. I always felt like i was reading this story from afar and normally i begin to feel immersed in story lines and their characters. I did not feel this at all. I also do not rate the story line.


  • Have just finished this Book. I did guess as soon as Minnie told him that his mother had died, that it was a lie & the reason he didn't speak to her for 15yrs. Having said that I found it a fantastic & a gripping read So very sad though,but thought provoking, on leaving things too late. A real good read. Ready to read my next book Secrets of the Tide. Love all the recommended books


  • Fantastic read. Brilliantly written, could not put it down from the first page.


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