Book review

Dead Guilty by David Belbin (2000)

This is a disturbing story of false accusation and betrayal. After eighteen-year-old Jon Crier discovers the body of a murdered local girl, he gradually loses control of events and his life collapses around him. At the moment when he most needs support and trust from his family and friends, he does not get it. Nor does he get fair treatment from the police.

But it is the loss of control that is so unnerving. We all like to think we are in charge of our own lives. Like the rest of us, Jon has been brought up to believe that if he obeys society's rules, then society will support him. When it comes to the test though, Jon discovers that society isn't necessarily organized to listen to the voice of a single individual, and political power is a devastating weapon.

It's a bad enough shock for Jon to stumble across the body in a derelict house on the canal side. He was only out for a walk during the school lunch break, and ventured into the house because he smelt smoke. But when he tries telling that to the police, the circumstances seem incriminating, and Jon is bewildered as the evidence accumulates against him. For instance, how did the dead girl come to have his biro in her bag? And how could he have been seen at the scene of the crime three-quarters of an hour earlier than he was actually there? Lies are being told, and Jon can't quite get a grip on who is telling them, or why.

Slowly and inexorably Jon has to concede ground. First, he's just being interviewed in connection with the murder. Then he's charged with murder, but granted police bail. Life can't carry on as usual while he waits for the trial to clear his name though - he's excluded from school. Next thing he knows, he's in prison on remand after breaking the conditions of bail, and he doesn't have a girlfriend any more, or any chance of A levels, and relations with his parents are difficult. How does it feel to be in a position like that? Jon becomes confused:

John had never thought of himself as violent, but when he remembered what James had told him about his behaviour during the fever, when he thought about Jane and Paul, in her room, together ... he couldn't deny that violence was deep inside him. Until the last few days, he would have said that he was incapable of killing someone. But that was no longer true. Maybe anyone could become a murderer, if they were provoked enough.

Actually, Jon is in a terrible mess and I can tell you that it takes years to sort out. I found this book a compelling read. So tempered with realism is it that right up to the very end I was left wondering how much more Jon was going to have to compromise his principles. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

David Belbin has also written:

  • Love Lessons

And if you enjoy a bit of a detective work you might like to look at this one by Roger J Green:

Melvin Burgess writes about serious subjects for mature older readers. You could look at:

You might also look at this one by Gaye Hicyilmaz:

Or this one by June Oldham:

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