Wednesday, 1 July 2015

HUMBER BOY B by Ruth Dugdall

A red trainer falls from the Humber bridge into the water close to where schoolteacher Roger Palmer is fishing. Close by is his daughter, Cheryl, who is bored out of her mind. These are the first to experience the tragedy that follows as the body of 10 year old Noah Watts joins his red trainer. CCTV catches two boys on film who run from the scene with the younger of the two catching the other in an ecstatic embrace.

Two brothers are convicted. Adam, the elder aged 14, is found not guilty of murder but guilty of complicity and receives a four year sentence. On his release he is allowed home to his family. For Ben aged 10 it is a life sentence.

After eight years in various institutions Ben is released and given a new identity. At first life on the outside is strange but with help from the probation service he is found a flat overlooking the Ipswich Marina and a job in the local aquarium where he becomes involved with the manager's family.

However idyllic this might sound his release sparks a Facebook campaign to track him down so that Noah Watts mother, Jessica, can ask that one question - why? And the gutter press are quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Cate Austin, the probation officer, does her best to support Ben despite her involvement with a police officer from Luxembourg and the sudden return of her sister Liz who has a startling revelation for Cate.
For her part Cate is a good person but also human and that leads her into more trouble as she tries hard to do her best for Ben against mounting opposition.

The story of Humber Boy B has several threads - Chapters titled The Day Of backtrack over the events leading to the death of Noah Watts - those titled Now deal with the Facebook campaign while Ben and Cate cover the present - but together build a picture towards the climax.

In her afterword Ruth Dugdall admits that the idea began to form as far back as 2000 when she first started work at a Suffolk prison unit set up for young boys who had committed crimes similar to those described in this book. And through reading this book I guess that the murder of James Bulger would come to mind. Yet there is one scene where Adam sits in court looking all quiet and gullible that suggest his innocence - a scene that reminds me of two young girls sitting in court; one dressed smartly and looking the picture of innocence who was found not guilty of murder while her shabbily dressed friend was found guilty. It is plain and, I think, this book makes it understood that there are no clear cut answers.

Humber Boy B is one read that keeps you on your toes - as with her previous books just as you think you've worked it out Ruth Dugdall throws the perfect curve ball with precision timing.

Ruth Dugdall, who's previous books 'The Woman Before Me' and 'The Sacrificial Man' both feature Cate Austin, will soon be bringing out a new Cate Austen novel 'Nowhere Girl' with a change of setting in Luxembourg.

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