Simon Lelic sets a sanguinary scene for his third novel, which concerns itself with a 12-year-old boy who has murdered a classmate. His previous works show a similar thematic interest: Rupture, his first book, centred on a school massacre. In a similar fashion, The Child Who shows sophistication in dealing with thorny and complex moral issues.
Essentially, his new book asks whether a child can simply be branded evil if the crime is heinous enough, or should some of the blame be attributed to those who may have failed the child in the first place: the parents, the teachers, social services, and society?
Leo Curtice, the boy's solicitor argues that putting the blame squarely on the boy would be letting everyone else off the hook. Sure enough, Curtice doesn't have to dig too deep to discover a history of abuse and neglect within his family.
But Curtice's wife and teenage daughter feel quite differently and plead with him to drop the case. There are hints as to whose side Lelic is on, but it's left largely to the reader to decide if the boy deserves anything more.