July 10, 2012

Guilty

by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers
978-1554699896
223 pp.
Ages 12-15
2012

Reviewed from ebook
978-1554699926

There's usually no single truth because every story varies with the perspective.  So too with crimes.  And in Norah McClintock's Guilty, two young people, Finn and Lila, see two crimes from two different perspectives.  The first crime, ten years earlier, had Lila's father, Louis Ouimette, accepting a guilty plea for the murder of Finn's mother.  Now, only three days after Louis Ouimette's release from prison, Finn's step-mom Tracie is shot, and Finn's dad shoots Louis in self-defense.

While Lila tries to deal with the loss of her father and the logistics of being alone and returning to live with her aunt in Boston, she tries to reconcile her confusion about the events that took her father's life.  Her dad had always told her that he hadn't killed Mrs. Newsome but the stolen goods had been found in his apartment, so he took a plea to get out of prison faster to be with his daughter.  But what was he doing at the Newsome's when he'd vowed to be turning everything around for her?

Meanwhile, Finn is helping his father cope with the loss of his second wife (even if Finn couldn't stand her): going to the police station, helping with funeral arrangements, tiding up Tracie's wardrobe.  But Finn can't help but be reminded of his mother's murder.  He'd only been seven but finding her body when he and his dad had returned from an evening out at his dad's club had been traumatic.

When Lila goes to the police station to enlist the help of Detective Sanders, she meets Finn who shares with her his rage at the man who killed his mother and how his dad had killed that man, unaware that he is speaking about Lila's father.  That meeting is but the first that bring Lila and Finn together as she pursues information from the police files, from a prison tutor and from old work mates at Mr. Newsome's club, as well as discretely from Finn, who begins to reconsider what he knows about both crimes. 

Guilty is a perfect example of why Norah McClintock is the queen of Canadian YA crime fiction, having won the Arthur Ellis Award for crime fiction at least five times.  In Guilty, the reader knows that there are major gaps in the police reports about the crimes from the onset, with Finn claiming to be a witness when the reader can tell the limits of his observations.  And with Lila delving into the details of both crimes, using only the resources most people could access (e.g., internet, library, newspapers, interviews, etc.), her pursuit is reasonable albeit determined.  She is not just looking for the answer to, "Who-dun-it?" but also to "Why?" and "How?," making the mystery far more complicated to unravel.  Guilty is great plot-driven crime novel that doesn't sacrifice its fine characters for want of a better story.  With both Finn and Lila coming at the crimes from different perspectives, converging at a dramatic life-threatening climax, Norah McClintock keeps the story fast-paced and intriguing, hopeful for justice (the coveted aim for most readers of crime fiction) and even peace of mind through resolution.

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