Author Lisa Ballantyne writes a crime novel and psychological thriller in her debut novel The Guilty One. And yet, in melding these two approaches, she is able to transcend each, giving the reader something that is immensely satisfying. The Guilty One tells the story of London solicitor Daniel Hunter who takes on the case of Sebastian Croll, an 11-year-old boy accused of murdering his 8-year-old neighbor. As Daniel investigates the murder and Sebastian’s role in it, we are also given the story of Daniel’s past, a past that allows him to identify with the clearly troubled Sebastian.
Ballantyne really writes two parallel narratives. Alternating chapters tell of Daniel’s present, his work on Sebastian’s case and of Daniel’s past as a child who has been removed from his drug addicted mother and placed in foster care. This structure of alternating chapters is compelling. We are invited to consider the ways in which Daniel’s past bleeds into his present. But more than that, this structure allows Ballantyne to tell two separate, albeit interrelated, suspense stories: the unfolding of the murder case and the veiled and dark secret of Daniel’s own past. This sort of parallel structure isn’t easy to write well; it often can become contrived. However, Ballantyne effectively allows these two parallel narratives to exist side by side, pulling them together at the end. Both stories are equally compelling and suspenseful. Ballantyne, then, has selected a structure that could easily feel forced, yet she manages to weave each story gracefully and to great effect. Additionally, while each story is suspenseful in its own right, Ballantyne creates some sort of larger, almost cosmic, suspense by deferring the intersection of the two parallel narratives. This represents a great creative achievement.
The title, The Guilty One, suggests that at least one of the central characters–Daniel himself; Sebastian; Minnie, Daniel’s foster mother–is guilty of some great sin. Yet, it’s not clear until the very end who is truly guilty and who is a victim in this novel. In this regard, Ballantyne also builds suspense, a particularly compelling psychological suspense. These characters all bear their own burdens, mostly related to family drama, grief, and dysfunction, and all are sympathetic and believable, if not completely likable, characters.
The Guilty One is Ballantyne’s first published novel. I’m certain we can expect more equally gratifying reads from her in the future.
NOTE: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No monetary or other compensation was received.
This review is part of a blog tour via TLC Book Tours. You can catch the full tour schedule here. A special thanks to TLC Book Tours and especially to Trish Collins at TLC.