This novel is a balanced mixture of psychological thriller and police procedural, primarily told from the point of view of Leo Curtice, a defense lawyer.  He is assigned the case of Daniel Blake, a twelve-year-old accused of killing his eleven-year-old classmate.   Curtice seems clear that his job is to protect the boy as his fate is decided by those who are distant, older and caught up in the emotions of the situation.  But when threatening letters begin arriving, Curtice must decide if he can defend the child and keep his own family safe.

Lelic manages to walk a fine line in telling this story.  The horrors of the crime are clear but not gory.  The accused is sympathetic but not excused.  Where to place blame is not clear.  Curtice himself is a parent who struggles with his duty to his job with his duty to protect his wife and daughter.  In many ways, it reads like a novelized version of an episode of Law & Order: UK.  Lelic attempts to tell the story with all aspects in mind.

The narrative moves quickly from investigation to legal procedure, interspersed with internal thoughts.  Lelic does so with deep descriptions.

The kitchen is dark and she leaves it dark until she gathers the will to boil an egg.  The shell is fiddly, though, and she scalds her fingers and in the end she cannot be bothered with it.  She slides the plate away, toast and egg cup and all, and pull her mug of tea and cigarettes nearer.  Her phone, too.  She checks the screen, just in case she has missed a call, even though the house is silent and the phone has barely left her grip.  Page 2.

The track curved and the train tipped and the ground beneath them seemed to fall away.  Out of one window reared a ragged cliff face; in the other, the bucking seas.  A wave lunged and clawed the track, then slid back into the writhing mass.  the water, in the winter sun, sparkled like a lunatic’s grin.  It seemed joyous, heedless, unconstrained in its dementia.  It launched itself again and this time lashed the carriage but the train seemed to barely judder.  It sped on – lungs full, head down – and dived for the approaching tunnel.  Page 151.

This novel brings to the fore questions about identity, nature vs nurture, and responsibility, all while telling a fast-paced story.

Many thanks to Elaine at Penguin for the review copy.

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ISBN 9780143120919 | 320 pages | 28 Feb 2012 | Penguin | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 – AND UP

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