The Child Who by Simon Lelic

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The Child Who by Simon Lelic

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Fast paced story concerning a solicitor who becomes caught up in a James Bulger-style murder - with traumatic effects for his own family. Cheery? No. Gripping? Yes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Mantle
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780330522748

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Simon Lelic's third book, The Child Who, takes him back to the format that worked so successfully with his first novel, Rupture, avoiding the near-future angle he took, less successfully I felt, with his second book. Lelic's themes are always inspired by real events that have been in the news. Here, he tackles the murder of an 11 year old child by Daniel, a 12 year old. The creative inspiration is surely the James Bulger case and he acknowledges the creative debt to Blake Morrison's As If on that very subject.

Who carried out the crime is not in any doubt. Why is another matter. Of even more focus for Lelic is how 'the system' treats young perpetrators. When local solicitor Leo takes the call from the duty officer to meet the young murderer, he becomes involved beyond his experience. In particular, neither he nor his wife and teenage daughter are prepared for the public outcry against Leo for acting for the young murderer.

While it raises important questions about what rights and treatment young offenders, and there is never a question that Daniel is guilty, the style of the book is more action based and there are genuine twists and turns in what becomes an exciting plot, particularly when Leo's own family become targeted for abuse. Lelic's lawyer seeks to understand why he acted in this way, although the public opinion is more of the 'string him up' variety. I'm not sure public opinion is quite so cold as this implies, although certainly some tabloid newspapers can take this line. However, it is a fast moving, page turning novel that is genuinely gripping to read.

One minor aside is that Lelic's characters, mainly Daniel's mother and step father, appear to hold some kind of Guinness World record for speed of smoking cigarettes! Characters seem to light up, say a couple of words and all of a sudden they are putting their cigarettes out. It's one of the very few areas where it doesn't seem realistic.

Of course the subject matter doesn't make for a comfortable read and it's a grim story, but it is a book that will have you gripped from the start. Style-wise, he tends to start each short chapter by making you uncertain of what is going on, and the numbered historical chapters are interspersed with fewer chapters that are told ten years later. But once you realize this, it isn't at all confusing. The short chapters and heavy dialog content ensure that this is a fast, gripping read. Simon Lelic is a writer to watch.

As well as checking out the author's other two books (we have a review of The House), fans of this style may well enjoy The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn.

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