Thursday, December 12, 2019


Title: Guilty Innocence
Author: Maggie James
Publisher: Orelia Publishing
Pages: 361
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Natalie Richards suspects that her on-off boyfriend Mark Slater is having an affair with another woman. Snooping through his apartment, she finds the worst evidence. That he is Joshua Barker, who, along with his friend, Adam Campbell, lured 2-year-old Abby Morgan to her death when they were only 11.

Rejected by Natalie, Mark is consumed by the desire to atone for that crime, even though he was not the one to lure Abby or batter her mercilessly and then stab her over and over again. Mark’s crime was weakness, inability to stand up to Adam. Unhappy, but unable to rebel. 

Weakness, like his father, who enabled his wife’s domineering nature all his life. Weakness at allowing himself to become the sidekick of Adam, who is a monster even at age 11.

Tony Jackson, his parole officer, needs to be told in case of any serious relationships. But Mark can’t bring himself to tell, especially now that the relationship is over, nor the fact that his identity has been breached.

As he nears the anniversary of Abby’s killing, he becomes obsessed with the idea of atonement. Landing up at the sight of Abby’s vigil, he is recognised there by Adam Campbell. In a moment of senseless action, he shares his phone number with Adam. In another moment of similar negligence, he makes contact with Rachel Morgan, the dead child’s older sister.

As Rachel develops feelings for Mark, things get severely tangled for Mark. Will he manage to extricate himself, or does he face prison time again? In a case of this sort, where the line between guilt and innocence is so thin, is there any hope for redemption for Mark?

As readers, we watch aghast, helpless to intervene and save Mark from himself. Unable even to take our eyes off his situation, knowing that no good can come of his actions and that he has doomed himself. It’s as if he has become 11 again, and is under the spell of Adam, unable to make a rational choice.

The story is written in the third person present tense PoV of Natalie, Mark and Rachel.

The chapter headings give us a foretaste of what is in store for that character.

The writing is beautiful. Maternity, after all, involves more than a woman opening her legs for the conception and birth.

Their embrace is like two magnets of the same polarity being forced together.

'It didn't mean anything...' The age-old excuse given by faithless partners everywhere, in the deluded belief that meaningless betrayal is preferable to deliberate intention. If it means so little, why do it? 

There are full sentences interspersed with fragments, making it all seem more real and intense, and going well with the present tense in which the book is written.

There are descriptions of sex, and one description of an act of sexual violence. The latter act has been written so sensitively that it fills us with a sense of pain. Our hearts go out to the character who has suffered this act.

Both Natalie and Mark are broken by their pasts, deeply flawed individuals. We get the details of their pasts through well written flashbacks. We see how their pasts influence their lives today and the wrong choices they often end up making.

It’s hard for us to believe that one boy could have lured and killed a little child while another boy is helpless to stop him. But the flashback shows us how it happens. How events culminated in the killing of the child.

The book raises issues of parenting, abandonment and other psychological issues, handling them sensitively in prose that stays with you. We see the dangers that dysfunctional families and emotionally unavailable parents pose to vulnerable children. 

Through the story of Mark and Natalie, we see how deeply the scars inflicted in childhood affect the course of our lives.

A beautiful read indeed.

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