The Child Who by Simon Lelic
After writing a spec fiction thriller for his second novel The Facility, review here, Lelic returns to give us a different take on familiary territory for his third. His stunning debut Rupture, review here, was a Whydunnit which explored how a teacher came to murder his pupils. The Child Who takes its inspiration from the tragic murder of Jamie Bulger, but frames its story through the eyes of a child murderer’s solicitor.
Leo Curtice is a jobbing solicitor based in Exeter, used to picking up all the drunk and disorderly cases at the weekends, and thinking there must be more to life than this. Then one day, he’s the duty solicitor when the call comes about a new case – “I think you should take this,” he’s told, and he says yes. This is where Leo’s life changes forever.
Leo is introduced to Daniel. Daniel is twelve, they say he murdered Felicity Forbes, his classmate. Her body was found in the river. Daniel has clammed up and Leo has to find a way to get him to communicate. The police have a witness and evidence. Could diminished responsibility be a defence strategy?
This case should be the making of Leo’s career, but in defending a child murderer, Leo is unprepared for everything else that happens. In a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome he finds himself bonding with Daniel, much to his wife and teenaged daughter Ellie’s utter disgust. They can’t understand why he’s putting the case before them, and he can’t see that it’s hurting their relationship. He hadn’t accounted either for the reaction of the public – everyone hates a child murderer, and they hate him for defending his client. This hatred extends to Leo’s family, and it soon escalates out of control; his daughter gets bullied at school, he gets pelted with eggs going into court. He can’t let go of the case, but there’s a lot worse still to come…
In The Child Who, Lelic once more shows his abilities to get under the skin of his subject and by approaching it from a different angle finding a new way of telling a story. It may lack the freshness of Rupture with its unique reveal structure, but it doesn’t have his debut’s slightly clichéd lead character of a policewoman who has to try too hard.
Instead, in Leo we have a man who is jaded and on the edge of a mid-life crisis, a state of mind which, when offered this stimilus takes over until it is too late. Leo is fully formed, and we see almost everything through his lens, knowing no more than he does at any time. Because of this obsession, his wife and daughter become rather sidelined as characters at the start allowing Daniel to dominate, which allows Lelic to comment on how the system treats young offenders. Notably, the victim and her family scarcely feature at all.
Less of a legal drama, more a psycho-thriller, the moral dilemmas are disturbing which make this an uneasy yet compelling read, and confirm Lelic’s status as a literary star in the making. (8.5/10)
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My copy was supplied by the Amazon Vine programme.
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The Child Who by Simon Lelic, pub Mantle books, Jan 2012, hardback 320 pages.
Rupture, The Facilityalso by Simon Lelic, paperbacks.