A taut, excellent thriller, heavily based on the notorious Bulger/Mary Bell murder cases in the UK, Lelic handles a difficult topic bravely. There is no attempt to romanticise his murderer, 12 year old Daniel Blake and his main character, Leo Curtice, a rural attorney who accidentally picks up the trial of the year, is drawn into a complex and sympathetic relationship with the young killer at great personal cost.
Although I did not appreciate the attempt to justify the killer’s actions by blaming society, his parents and everyone else for his actions because he was so young, the author did briefly touch on the view from the victim’s side of the fence in an interesting way. There are no easy answers to the questions and issues raised in this book, but I do feel that it leant too much towards the view that children are not to blame for the evil they commit: what was not properly explored, was that for every 8 abused children who become abusers themselves (a statistic quoted on Pg 200 of AS IF by Blake Morrison,) there are 2 who choose to escape repeating that pattern by taking responsibility for their own actions, despite the failings of society, their parents etc.
However, Lelic still managed to weave a tense, compassionate tale without resorting to blood spattered pages and an over use of swear words. He didn’t need too; his characters and his talented use of words were powerful enough to keep one glued to the pages, wanting to see how Leo’s choices played out.
The surprise ending was much in keeping with the tone of the book, which ultimately shows how a well-written story can be used to bring important issues to the public’s attention.