Published by Legends Press on April 1st 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Crime, Mystery & Detective, Social Issues, Thrillers
Source: the Publisher
Buy on Amazon, Buy at Forbidden Planet
A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity. Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B's reintegration into society. But the general public's anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep. Cate's loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Child on Child murder. The completely unforgivable, executed by the incomprehensible. All too often, we’re quick to condemn without compassion – so what do we do and how do we feel when presented with all the facts? Ruth Dugdall asks those very questions in her latest thriller ‘Humber Boy B’, out on April 1st.
A child plummets from the Humber Bridge, witnessed by a man and his teenage daughter. The only other people visible at the scene are two young boys, seen fleeing from the bridge as the boy dies below. Statements and CCTV footage quickly identify two young brothers who are tried and imprisoned for their crimes, leaving a community to try and heal in the aftermath. Now, eight years later, the younger brother is released, with a new identity, to start a new life. However, there are those who feel he doesn’t deserve this new beginning, determined to unmask him, and others who can’t leave the past behind, no matter the risks. So it takes all of Cate Austin’s determination, as probation officer of the newly renamed ‘Ben’ to make sure he stays on the right path, at the same time as unravelling the mystery behind that fateful day.
Told from multiple perspectives in the present day, and a flashback to the time of the crime simply (and effectively) titled ‘The Day Of’, Ruth Dugdall has created in ‘Humber Boy B’ a tense and chilling moral tale that questions everything from penal reform to neighbourly and community responsibility. What sets her novel apart from other similar titles is that although her professional background is obvious (Ruth previously worked in the probation service) her writing tone is never overly technical or condescending; we’re allowed to get involved in the procedural elements without feeling like an outsider and credibility is never stretched.
This attention to detail doesn’t mean that there’s no soul to the story – in fact it’s quite the opposite. ‘Ben’, who’s released so completely unprepared, that he struggles to do even the simplest tasks, has a narrative that at times is completely heartbreaking. Try to imagine going shopping for the first time in eight years, when the last time you entered a shop was as a child to buy sweets. Ben’s confusion over simple things like different bank notes and large containers of milk really get under your skin, and raise questions about how many of these young people are out there, struggling to adapt. He’s obviously been failed by the system that was supposed to ensure his rehabilitation, and as you progress through ‘Humber Boy B’ it’s soon clear that the reason he’s in this situation is because he was also failed by those who were meant to be caring for him as a child.
Although his upbringing is not an excuse for his actions, Dugdall paints such a vivid picture of life for ‘Ben’ and his brother Adam (who is given a lighter sentence and escapes the need for anonymity and relocation) that it’s impossible not to empathise with them. That’s not to say that theirs is the only story and perspective given, as we’re shown how the mother of the victim reacts via her messages to a Facebook page that she has set up to find ‘Humber Boy B’ (Ben’s codename during the trial). Seeking questions behind her sons death and a face-to-face talk with his killer, her messages start out calm and reasoned, but soon take a more sinister turn when others get involved. A smart commentary on social media vigilantism, Dugdall resists the temptation to sensationalise the mother, instead opting to add to the tension surrounding Ben’s possible discovery.
The pace of ‘Humber Boy B’ is consistent and fast-paced, only occasionally taking breaks as Cate deals with her home life. Her relationship with her daughter and revelations from her long-lost sister draw clever parallels with the facts behind her current case, and although some elements are obviously carried over from previous stories, there’s no sense of missing essential bits of back-story. Although the characters in Cate’s life don’t feel as well-rounded as those in Ben’s, there’s every chance that will be remedied in the next novel, especially her relationship with Oliver, the French detective who gets involved with Ben’s case and later on with Cate herself.
‘Humber Boy B’ is not an easy read, particularly if you remember the real-life Jamie Bulger case, but it’s never gruesome. In less professional hands, this novel would come across as exploitative and sensationalised, but by implementing clever narrative techniques, characters with questionable motives and a tense, chilling plot, Ruth Dugdall has produced a thriller that deserves to be mentioned in the same breathe as Lynda La Plant and Minette Walters.
Join me tomorrow when I have an interview with Ruth Dugdall to mark the publication of Humber Boy B.