Ruth Dugdall has used one of the most emotive subjects for the basis of this, her third novel featuring probation officer Cate Austin, that of children who kill. This book will stay with me for a long while because it is a book that makes you reflect on how the justice system manages these, thankfully rare, events.
The blurb tells us that a boy fell from the Humber Bridge and two brothers were convicted of being involved in his death but this book starts at a point eight years after the event, on the release day of Humber Boy B, now known as Ben following his change of identity, moved to an area far away from his home in Hull and unsurprisingly his struggle to adapt to a world that he hasn’t been part of since he was ten years old.
The story is told through multiple viewpoints from those who were there on the day of Noah’s death including Cheryl who was with her father Roger Palmer, a teacher who tirelessly tries to rescue the young boy. This structure can be confusing but the chapters are clearly labelled, some as The Day Of, others with the present day story with the narrator’s name and what unfolds is all the more chilling for the lack of melodrama on that fateful day. The story in the present time follows Ben on his release including a facebook page which has been set up by Noah’s mother, an anonymous and frequent commentator, Silent Friend, seems to want to help her to find Ben and the answers she longs for. Reading these posts was more unnerving despite their briefness, as they seemed so much like those comments that you’d rather not read on all types of social media.
This is an intelligent book that clearly defines the different roles involved in Ben’s new life. The police see Ben as a different boy to Cate who delves through his case files to gain an understanding of someone who needs help with everyday life as well as finding a job and needing protection from any lurking vigilantes who may work out who he really is. This is unsurprising as Ruth Dugdall worked in units not unlike the fictional young offenders units where Ben spent his sentence, and in her own words helped boys like Ben.
Humber Boy B is published by Legend Press who were kind enough to give me a proof copy for review purposes, it will be out for the kindle on 1 April 2015 but you can already buy a paperback copy.
Previous Books featuring Cate Austin
Other books about child killers:
As If – Blake Morrison