|Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A child killer has served his tariff and is released under a new identity, with all the meagre support and protection the system allows. There are those who still need questions answered and others who need their own guilt assuaged...following Ben's release and trawling back through memories of the day it happened, questions of guilt are not so easily answered - a gripping and emotional read, with insights into a system that tries but often fails.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: April 2015|
|Publisher: Legend Press|
|External links: Author's website|
We've all read the stories in the papers: children who kill, particularly children who kill children. We've always wondered what went through their minds as they did it. We've also wondered about what happens to them once they're no longer children, when they've grown up in prison and are then deemed fit to be freed back into real life.
Some of us have also wondered about the other people affected by the murder. The parents of the child who will never be allowed to lay their bairn to rest, because every time there is a similar case, their child's death will be referenced in all the media attention. When the killer is released, it is all dredged over again.
It's no surprise that people feel that the killer doesn't get a life sentence but the victims do. It's no surprise that we struggle to understand.
Ruth Dugdall will have thought about the questions more than most of us, because for more than a decade she worked in the probation service and some of that work was with child killers. She has been up close (if not necessarily personal) with these individuals. She can therefore claim to have some insight.
Her first novel The Woman Before Me (2009) won the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award... so she can also claim to be able to write.
Humber Boy B was convicted of murder at the age of 10 and sentenced to 8 years. He is now being released. He has a new name, Ben, a new identity, a new home – a rented property in an unsold prestigious development that has been converted to social housing. He also has virtually no money and absolutely no idea how the world works. He feels bad about what he did, but he can't understand why his brother, Humber Boy A was not convicted.
He understands that to stay safe he has to stay completely under the radar...but how do you leave the only family you ever had, even if, over the last eight years they have virtually disowned you.
How, in effect, do you start again?
And will the world let you?
Noah was the same age as Ben, was Ben's friend, when he was seen to fall from the Humber Bridge. Pushed.
Noah's mother has struggled to come to terms with what happened, but now that the killer is being released, she needs to find him. Not for vengeance, but just to understand why?.
Enter Facebook, with all its power to provide support, and to provide a platform for vengeful vigilantes.
Humber Boy B is the story of what happens next. It is also the story of what happened back then. It sees Cate (who has one or two family problems of her own) assigned as Ben's probation officer and doing what she can to keep him safe in every sense of the word. Through Ben's eyes, we see what a scary place the world can be to someone who hasn't grown up in it. And through the Facebook posts we see what Noah's mother thinks and feels and how one individual in particular responds to that.
Intrigue is heightened by the final strand, which follows the events of the day of i.e. the day of the murder. The events unfold slowly, all of the activities of that day, all the small decisions that led to the final event, any one of which, had it been made differently, might have been sufficient to change the final outcome: a myriad of decisions that build one upon another.
On such small things do our lives turn, is what Dugdall seems to be telling us.
As in all the best crime writing nothing is certain. Some of the twists are predictable, others not so much. There are two issues to be resolved as the tale unfolds, one is about seeking clarity about what really happened that day and why, and the other is about what happens next. Even when I felt I knew where the story was going, I kept hoping for specific developments, for revelations that would chime with the sympathy or antipathy I was developing for the characters concerned.
That's the real mark of good writing: it makes you care about the characters. Dugdall's experience comes to the fore in her ability to keep all of her characters, whatever else they are, very human.
Gripping and emotionally engaging.
If you enjoy this, then go back and check out The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugdall - another stand-alone novel from a writer who is barely beginning to hit her stride.
You can read more book reviews or buy Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.