This book genuinely caught me by surprise. I was expecting a melodrama, bittersweet and tough to read. Shows you really should never judge a book by its cover, regardless of the cliche. Actually, I think I judged it purely on the book title and cover before even reading the premise. Once I read the premise about a college kid discovering the story behind a man convicted of pedophilia and murder, it truly aroused my interest because I’ve never before read a book like that.
Pedophilia is a tough subject to tackle. It’s a universally loathed crime, considered the bottom of the barrel as far as criminal activity, even by criminals themselves. It’s a subject where we chose to conveniently cover our eyes and ears to the background of the criminal because the crime is so horrific that we can’t see past it – not even to a background for the criminal who might have been abused themselves at one point. Society wants to bury these criminals and not look too hard, because the thought of people who commit these horrible crimes as people rather than monsters is unbearable. The thought that anyone could be a pedophile is unthinkable and truly terrifying. And the way society treats these convicted criminals is a testament to it – even murderers are further up the food chain even in prison.
So I genuinely thought that’s what the author was tackling. SPOILERS AHEAD! Unfortunately, he took the easy route and instead made the criminal wrongfully convicted. He does, however, create some nicely fleshed out characters (except for the main villain, who is very 2-dimensional unfortunately), all with moral gray areas to their characters, which make them very interesting. Even the main character’s mother, who seems a genuinely horrible human being, is fleshed out. She has a severe mental disorder: bipolar disorder, which was kept under control while her father, the stable force in her life was alive. When he died, her life literally spun out of control. The main character’s entire actions, including some very very stupid ones – like going to interview a suspect instead of letting the police handle it – were motivated by the guilt he felt over his grandfather’s death and his inability to save him. This guilt, no doubt, is the reason he lets his mother walk all over him, when in other ways he seems more in charge of his life. He possibly feels like the destruction of his family life was his fault because he allowed his grandfather to die without being able to save him.
Carl’s guilt is on par with the main character’s guilt. He, too, did not do anything that would subjectively be called wrong, but his guilt and PTSD was severe enough to destroy him until he felt he was able to recompense for it by taking responsibility even though he hadn’t committed the crime. I was, however, surprised that he didn’t have more defenders given that he was a well decorated veteran. I would have expected more sympathy and more people willing to believe in his innocence. However, the fact that he pushed for a speedy trial in itself didn’t help his case.
Mental disorders are seriously discussed in this book, with multiple characters experiencing some type of disorder. Carl = PTSD, younger brother = autism, mom = bipolar disorder, main character = PTSD, actual criminal’s father = depression, flatmate = PTSD, girlfriend of victim =depression and possibly PTSD.
The ending was a bit too neatly tied up – come on, $100,000 reward for information on capturing a criminal? Why would the police have given the entire reward to the kid, given that the main character didn’t even know the connection to the second dead girl? It was just a convenient way to create a happily ever after for the main character without much realism. Also, I get that the girl was very involved in the case towards the end of the book, but to me they didn’t seem close enough for her to get over her fears of intimacy and PTSD and sleep with him. Plus, I genuinely don’t see the relationship continuing without the lynch pin of the autistic brother. Her ease at being around the autistic brother probably stems from the fact that she sees no threat in him, as he does not seem capable of manipulating and taking advantage of her.
All in all, a very interesting book with some good character developments and a few disappointments. Recommended for a good read.