The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne is a debut psychological thriller (available March 19, 2013).
Everybody is guilty of something. It could be a mild offense like a misunderstanding, a lie to spare someone grief, or even murder.
To author Lisa Ballantyne, the guilty one is a perception as well as fact.
Ballantyne blurs the line between right and wrong like a double-edged sword in this methodical psychological thriller. The age-old struggle between good and evil takes on new meaning through characters so jaded by life; she makes you question it yourself.
The story follows Daniel Hunter, a young lawyer faced with defending Sebastian Croll, an eleven-year-old boy accused of the brutal murder of eight-year-old Ben Stokes.
As the case develops, Ballantyne reels you in with just enough tidbits of evidence to keep you guessing about Sebastian’s guilt or innocence.
Sebastian’s innocence is not the only one in question. Ballantyne probes Daniel’s past to unlock secrets from his childhood.
Daniel tripped as he left the coop. He fell on his elbows and the chicken blood on his hands touched his face. He got up and walked into the house with the blood on his cheek and the feathers of the bird he had killed still clinging to his trainers and fingers.
She was awake and filling the kettle when he entered. She was standing with her back to him, her dirty dressing gown hanging to her calves. She had the radio on and was humming to a pop song. He first thought to start up the stairs to the bathroom but found himself rooted to the spot. He wanted her to turn and see him, soiled with his violence.
Born into a violent home life is something the boys share. Ballantyne handles her characters’ situations with a touch of kindness. Sebastian and Daniel both try to protect their mothers from the men in their lives the best that eleven-year-olds can.
“Do you know why she’s wearing that sweater?” said Sebastian. He held his hand up to his face, thumb and forefingers touching, and looked at Daniel through the rectangle of his fingers.
“What do you mean, your mum?”
“Yes, when she wears that jumper it means she has strangle marks on her neck.” Sebastian was still looking through his fingers.
Sebastian put both hands to his throat and squeezed until his face started to turn red.
“Stop it, Seb,” said Daniel. He reached out and pulled gently at the child’s elbow.
Ballantyne picks at Daniel’s memory to show empathy for Sebastian. Both boys, for different reasons were separated from their mothers by the court system.
Daniel felt sudden empathy for the child. He remembered his own mother with a man’s hands around her throat. He remembered how desperate he had felt as a child, separated from her, unable to protect her. It had driven him to do terrible things.
These boys actually are the ones needing protection.
Scenes switch deftly between Daniel the boy and Daniel the man. Adult Daniel carries a lot of unresolved issues with him. Lack of trust is a major issue.
Fortunately for him, as a boy he was sent to the foster home of Minnie Flynn. Her character is flawed but she still has a lot to teach Daniel. Yet, like everyone in this story, Minnie carries a guilty burden with her, one she can never resolve.
Ballantyne uses symbols to convey her characters’ feelings without having them speak. The importance of these objects is implied for the most part. The butterfly, for example is used several times as a precious memory, rebirth, nervousness, and freedom.
I especially like her use of eggs to show both vulnerability and strength. A young Daniel has the responsibility of collecting eggs from Minnie’s henhouse. Eggs are a huge part of her livelihood.
Daniel picked up a warm brown egg. He was about to place it in the cardboard tray that she left out for him, as always on the counter. He felt it hard inside his palm. His palm sensed the vulnerability of the egg. His palm knew the shell skin and the liquid yolk it contained, the suspended promise of a chick.
Without meaning to, almost so that his palm could feel the sharp nip of broken shell and the cloying of albumen, Daniel squeezed the egg and crushed it. The yolk ran through his fingers like blood.
“Is it nature or nurture that drives us?” That age old question surfaces again and again throughout the story. This issue is left up to the reader to resolve.
The Guilty One aptly shows us that it is our internal fight between good and evil that directs us down our path in life one way or another.
For more information, or to buy a copy, visit:
Cindy Kerschner is an avid mystery fan, freelance writer, and professional cook. You can learn about her through her website at http://www.cindysrecipesandwritings.com.
See all posts by Cindy Kerschner for Criminal Element.