Lisa Ballantyne

The Guilty One

"This is an assured debut novel that has ‘bestseller’ slapped all over it."


Daniel Hunter has spent many years as a solicitor defending young adults and what many would consider, ‘lost causes’. Such a lost cause is eleven year-old Sebastian who is charged with battering and killing a child three years younger. Seeing a lot of his juvenile self in Sebastian, Daniel takes on the role as his legal guide. But it is a trial that will have Daniel looking deep within himself and how things may well have been so different.

As Daniel makes preparations for the trial he hears that his adoptive mother, Minnie has died. They had not communicated for many years due to Minnie’s subterfuge and Daniel’s anger and reluctance to forgive her indiscretion. Now Minnie is dead there is no chance of reconciliation. As Sebastian’s trial gets underway, Daniel discovers more about the woman who took him in when nobody else wanted him and loved him even when he hated her. Slowly building up a portrait of Minnie’s life before they met, Daniel slowly realises that Minnie’s reasons for lying to Daniel may have been in his own best interests. Possibly, if Minnie had not acted, then Daniel may well have found himself in a court of law as a criminal rather than defending them.

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‘The Guilty One’ is a very strong debut combining the very potent issues of morality as well as of the heart. Ballantyne delivers a novel that is thought-provoking as well as heartbreaking. The author works well on the theme of guilt and by running Daniel’s past life parallel with his current case, (a child killing another child and the media coverage that follows) runs alongside Danny’s own volatile childhood, his emotional outbursts and signs of infrequent violence. It is interesting that children will use the act of violence to test an adult, to see if they will run away like everyone else, or stay and see beyond the penknife levelled at their face. Ballantyne has told a tale very well in this novel. I wouldn’t say it is perfect or immaculate but what she gives is a promising intro to her work. For me, Minnie and the juvenile Danny were entrancing. Danny’s past with Minnie was vivid, colourful and beguiling as the child turn in to a man. But the destructive child in Danny is never far beneath the skin and soon the whole is torn down and thrown aside as a complete fabrication. In some parts of the book it was difficult to actually like Daniel as an adult. It is due again to his destructive nature that he was able to continue his grievance with Minnie for so long and only regret his actions when it was far too late. But there Ballantyne is sublime as she doesn’t make you judge Daniel, despite shots of annoyance at his pig-headedness. In Ballantyne’s novel there is more than one guilty party hiding a secret of some description. I felt that the author had a talent for characterisation. I could have read a whole book about Minnie whilst Sebastian’s father, Kenneth ‘King’ Croll who despite only playing a small part and is mainly absent, you could still feel his intimidating presence strongly throughout his son’s trial. As I read ‘The Guilty One’ I could sense that this is one of those novels that people rightly get excited about. It will entrance them, it will grip them like a vice and it will divide the reading public. It held me and wouldn’t release me until the final page. If this is what Ballantyne can offer with her debut novel, then we can only marvel at what she will produce in the future. This is an assured debut novel that has ‘bestseller’ slapped all over it.

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