Leo Curtice, small-town English lawyer, gets the case that will make his career. A 12-year-old boy has been arrested for the brutal rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl. What follows is not a legal thriller, a police procedural, or anything identifiable in the crime genres.
Curtice simply bumbles his way ineffectually through the case, trying to draw out the unassuming but admittedly murderous Daniel Blake. Stammering his way through probable outcomes or possible defenses, he never quite makes a point or finishes a thought let alone comes up with a strategy.
He does this with a blatant naivety regarding small town England's reaction--both to the crime and to his taking up the defense, or rather, representation. Like Lelic, Curtice makes the distinction that he is not on the boy's side, not defending him or his actions. At the same time, neither the character nor the author condemn Daniel or his crime. Yet small town Exeter has definite opinions; Curtis, Daniel and his parents are attacked by protesters with eggs and signs as the boy is moved to a juvenile facility. The mindless mob has unambiguous views on Daniel Blake and his crime, even if his irresolute solicitor sympathizes with the boy because of his age.
Also of strong opinion are Curtice's wife and daughter. They think Leo should drop the case, even before the obnoxiously whiny daughter gets harassed at school. The moody teen gets beat up, has red ink tossed on her--but based on the way she's depicted in the novel, it's a wonder this isn't an every day occurrence. The wife isn't fleshed out enough to be more than a plot device.
As Leo plods through the book, peeling back layer after layer of his incompetence as both a professional and family man, he receives letters threatening his daughter if he won't quit the case. This is the twist, apparently--how would Leo feel if his whiny daughter was the victim? And lo and behold, she soon goes missing. Gasp.
So we're left with moral ambiguity leeching most of the conflict from this so-called thriller, a no-big-surprise ending, an unsatisfactory comeuppance for Daniel the killer boy, and an otherwise depressing tale of a lame solicitor. Supposedly, this was loosely based on an actual crime across the pond. But The Child Who thought this was an entertaining, worth-while novel should be fired. It's coming out at the end of February, but unless special ordered, the only copy of this one will be sitting on the free ARC shelf near the cash register.
I'm beginning to lose my faith in the mighty British crime writer.