I’ve read one other book by CWA Debut Dagger Award winning Ruth Dugdall back in 2011, when I reviewed The Sacrificial Man for ForBooksSake. Like her previous books, Humber Boy B focuses on unraveling the lives behind a crime, and looking at the reasons people do the things they do.
Ben, released from prison after serving eight years for the murder of another boy when he was only ten, finds himself in the care of probation officer Cate Austin. The probation service is just one of the many vital services taking a battering by austerity and I was surprised that this book was not more political about this-if 70% of my subject matter was undergoing privatization and massive staffing changes I would have definitely at least mentioned it.
Cate must help Ben adjust to life outside of the prison system-life he is experiencing as an adult for the first time. I was quite frankly appalled by how little thought seems to have been put into Ben’s rehabilitation-he is given (begrudgingly) a luxury waterside flat, but no training in money management or social skills. You really do manage to feel sorry for Ben as he limps along, finding the idea of having a Macdonalds overwhelming, and trying to strike up a friendship with the woman who works in his local Spar.
But there is unfinished business in Ben’s life. He killed a child, and as far as the media and most of the people responsible for his care are concerned, he is the face of evil. There is an Internet campaign to find him and bring him to justice yet again, and someone somewhere has a very personal grudge.
Like The Sacrificial Man, Humber Boy B skips between various voices and times, so we see the events of the day of the murder played out. This is done with a lot more finesse than her previous books and the tension builds gradually, and I did find myself at some points seeing Ben as the evil murderer, at other times the victims of horrible horrible circumstances. The portrayal of children as products of their parents and the effect of neglect, abuse and teenage hormones is done very well.
Cate Austin is a little bit more part of the drama this time, with her private life and family more revealed, but this still feels like a book about a crime, rather than a book about a probation officer. I did not enjoy it any less for that, and would recommend this book for fans of modern crime, and it complemented my previous reading of Away From You very well.
Humber Boy B is published by Legend Press on the 1 April 2015.