Simon Lelic is not afraid of tackling difficult topics in his novels; he seems to relish them, in fact. His first novel, the award-winning A Thousand Cuts, revolves around a teacher who goes on a shooting spree at his school. In this one, he writes about a 12-year-old boy who has murdered a classmate.
Not only does Lelic write about tough subjects, he digs in deeply, examining the issues unflinchingly, making them even more uncomfortable. The main character of this novel is Leonard Curtice, a barrister in small-town England who is brought in to defend the accused murderer. By mounting a vigorous defense, he earns the condemnation of his neighbors. Threatening letters appear at his home, "encouraging" him to just allow the boy to plead guilty and face the consequences. Curtice ignores the threats, but when his own daughter (the same age as the victim) disappears, the tension is cranked up even further.
Lelic's strength is in his characterizations. There are wonderfully uncomfortable interactions between Curtice and his wife, Curtice and his colleagues, Curtice and his client, and Curtice and his client's parents. Lelic lets us into Curtice's thoughts so deeply, that despite his major flaws, we understand why he won't back down from representing the child, and even why he sees there is a viable defense to be mounted. We don't approve of all his actions (hiding the threatening notes from his wife, for example), but we understand them.
This book moves at a very nice clip, is emotionally engaging, and the ending is quite strong. The unraveling of the mystery of the daughter's disappearance is satisfying, both in terms of plot and character.