Fortunately, the instances of children who kill other children are rare. The misdeeds of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, however, are the stuff of nightmares, as is the killing of Martin Brown and Brian Howe by Mary Bell. What happens to these killers when they have served their time and are released into the community, however, is just as controversial. Lesley Kara tackled the subject in her recent novel The Rumour, and now Welsh author Amy Lloyd brings us her take on the issue with One More Lie.
Two children, Sean and Lilly, murder a third child, Luke – disabled physically and mentally. In a case that whips up a storm of public revulsion, both are sentenced to long prison terms. Eventually, both are released on licence subject to supervision. Lilly is now Charlotte, ankle-tagged and nervous about a new world full of strange things that never existed when she lost her liberty all those years ago.
The structure of One More Lie is crucial to its impact. The chapters are either Her:Then (the young Lilly), Her:Now (Lilly as Charlotte) or Him:Now (the present day Sean)There is no third party, no impartial observer, no narrator whose words we know we can trust. As Charlotte picks her way through the minefield of her new life, desperate to preserve her false identity, plagued by a potential new boyfriend and anxious about her relationship with her psychologist Dr Isherwood, one of the mines explodes beneath her. She is contacted by Sean. Sean, her partner in the terrible crime which broke her childhood into pieces. Sean, the little anarchist who broke all the rules and made her laugh.
The adult Sean is living a life straight from the pages of Trainspotting. Dealing drugs, hacking computers, existing in a grimy flat and generally living down to the kind of future predicted for him by the exasperated teachers who knew him before he became front page news. Will his reunion with Lilly/Charlotte end in disaster or redemption?
Amy Lloyd asks us to make two crucial judgments as the narrative unfolds. The first is to decide if Lilly’s childhood recollections – Her:Then – are reliable. Do we trust her when she tells us (and the police) that she has no recollection of the crucial last hour of Luke’s life? Is she shutting it out as a defence, or has the trauma genuinely taken hold of her memory?
Secondly, and inevitably, we are drawn into acting as judge and jury about the complex matter of culpability for Luke’s death. Remember, there is no Him:Then. We only see the young Sean through Lilly’s eyes and it seems, for a time at least, that he is the dangerous one, the wild card, the ten year-old Dark Angel, if you will. For sure, he is not neglected in the sense that his home life attracts the attention of Children’s Services, even though the family routine is haphazard. By contrast, Lilly’s life with her bruised and beaten mother ends in tragedy, although once she has moved in with her aunt she receives love, compassion and care. But is she already too badly damaged from the nightmare of her mother’s death for the new life to heal the wounds?
I finished the book in two sessions – it is that gripping. No-one reads psychological thrillers for an easy ride, and you certainly won’t find one here. There is cruelty a-plenty, both physical and mental. There is heartbreak and the Her:Then chapters speak volumes about Innocence Lost. William Blake believed that innocence could be regained, but to discover if Amy Lloyd (above right) shares the poet’s optimism you will have to read the book yourself. One More Lie is published by Century and is already available in Kindle. The hardback version will be out on 4th April.