Monday, December 10, 2012
A chance phone call throws the biggest murder case in southern England into the hands of provincial attorney Leo Curtice. Twelve-year- old Daniel Blake stands accused of murdering an eleven-year-old girl. But who is truly responsible when one child kills another? As Curtice sets out to defend the indefensible, he soon finds himself pitted against an enraged community calling for blood. When the buildup of pressure takes a sinister turn, he fears for his wife and young daughter's safety. Must he choose between his family and the life of a damaged child? With piercing psychological insight, Lelic examines a community's response to a hideous crime. - Penguin
As I was organizing my books a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon THE CHILD WHO by Simon Lelic. The cover caught my eye, not because I thought it was outstanding, rather because I thought it might be a book that would work for my Mystery Monday feature. As I read the book's description on the back cover, my interest was definitely piqued and I decided to read it sooner rather than later.
THE CHILD WHO is a psychological suspense novel that takes place in England. Leo Curtice, a small town lawyer, answers the phone one day and ends up with the biggest (and most scandalous) murder case of his career. A twelve year old boy, Daniel Blake, is accused of brutally murdering an eleven year old girl. Curtis is determined to represent this boy to the best of his abilities; however, he soon finds himself at odds with the community and his family because of his loyalty to Daniel.
Tensions are strong between Leo and his wife and daughter, but things really heat up when Leo begins receiving letters that threaten his family. Leo is torn between protecting his family and his damaged client, and his decision ultimately has drastic consequences to everyone involved.
I thoroughly enjoyed THE CHILD WHO, but I wasn't exactly surprised by that. First of all, I love a good psychological thriller and THE CHILD WHO definitely qualified as one. It's going to be difficult for me to discuss the reasons why the suspense aspects of this story were so good without providing spoilers; however, suffice it to say that the turn of events at the end of this story were pretty startling. I should also mention that there were many aspects of this story that made me rather uncomfortable from the idea that a twelve year old could brutally murder another child, to the treatment of Daniel, to the threatening letters.
Another aspect of THE CHILD WHO that I enjoyed was the character of Leo. I found him to be a fascinating and complex character, and I'm still thinking about him ever after I've finished this story. Leo was extremely well developed -- the reader was even given enough information about his past to make him more real; and while I didn't always agree with him, I was drawn to him and his plight to understand Daniel's actions.
And finally, I was very impressed with the author's writing style. Mr. Lelic's debut novel A THOUSAND CUTS won a few awards and this one received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, so I had a feeling that his writing would be pretty special. However, I admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel. And by that I mean the psychological aspects of the story. I thought Mr. Lelic did a remarkable job of asking some very tough questions about crime, victims, criminal responsibility, and guilt. Specifically, I appreciated how he brought to light Daniel's abuse as a child and the ways it might have affected him.
THE CHILD WHO would make a great book club selection. There is a fair amount of controversy in this novel, and there is also some insightful social commentary. I have a feeling that most book clubs would have more than enough to talk about between Leo and Daniel, not to mention Leo's family, co-workers, and the entire community. There is a reading guide available with eleven questions, and I thought they were all excellent. Some of the things you might want to discuss include the meaning of the title, guilt, responsibility, obligation, sacrifice, evilness, sympathy, and crime and punishment.
I found THE CHILD WHO to be a very satisfying read that actually entertained me and made me think. I recommend it to fans of suspense novels and psychological thrillers.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.