The Child Who starts with a sickening crime - the murder and sexual assault of an eleven-year-old girl - but what makes it even more horrifying is that the perpetrator is another child, a twelve-year-old boy called Daniel Blake. The strapline on the front of the book says : "For two families, nothing will ever be the same again". I assumed this to be the families of the victim and the murderer, but the victim's family barely gets a mention in fact - the book focuses on the complicated relationship between Daniel and his assigned lawyer, Leo Curtis, and the consequences for Leo's family when he becomes the target of a hate mail campaign. Under British law, everyone is entitled to legal representation, however awful their crimes, but this does not sit easy with the general public, or even those closest to Leo, who hold it against him and put the pressure on for him to stop.
Although Daniel's crimes are undoubtedly wicked, the book tends to see him, to a lesser degree, as a victim too, exploring avenues that would suggest that his upbringing or possible abuse in his early childhood may have pushed him onto this path. Some of the judge's decisions, such as trying him as an adult, revealing his identity to the press and sending him to a detention centre where he is by far the youngest resident, are all viewed rather critically. It is a thought-provoking read that makes you wonder if jail time or some other form of rehabilitation would be better suited to such a young child, but you still can't get over the fact that he needs to be punished for such violent and vicious crimes, even if ultimately you feel sorry for him as the story unfolds.
The book vaguely reminded me of the Jamie Bulger case, but I didn't realise just how many parallels there were until I saw the author's notes at the end of the book and checked the details online. When two-year-old Jamie (or James as his family called him - it was only the press that started calling him Jamie apparently) was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered by two baby faced ten-year-olds in 1993, they became the youngest convicted murderers in modern English history. I remember the harrowing story on the news but wasn't aware of the scenes at the court or what happened afterwards, so it's worth reading up on the details of the original case to see how it influenced the novel.
The most important thing in the story isn't the crime though - it's watching the hapless lawyer's life turn into a living nightmare as he becomes another unexpected victim of a crime he had no part in. Definitely a thought-provoking read.
star rating : 4/5