Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).
So this week I’m revisiting Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall – first reviewed in February 2015.
A blur in the sky, a brick no, a trainer, red falls to the water… There seems to be a scuffle… a hand grabbing at the dangling child. Then, with the awfulness of inevitability, the hanging child drops, gravity takes him.
A child is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge. Despite fleeing the scene, two young brothers are found guilty and sent to prison. Upon their release they are granted one privilege only, their anonymity.
Probation officer Cate Austin is responsible for Humber Boy B’s reintegration into society. But the general public’s anger is steadily growing, and those around her are wondering if the secret of his identity is one he actually deserves to keep.
Cate’s loyalty is challenged when she begins to discover the truth of the crime. She must ask herself if a child is capable of premeditated murder. Or is there a greater evil at play?
Then – Three young boys are on the walkway of the Humber Bridge, one of them climbs over the barrier and the younger of the other two pushes him to his death
Now – Eight years after he was imprisoned for murder at the age of 10, Humber Boy B is released back into society. He is given a new identity and a flat in Ipswich and now has to try to rehabilitate himself into society. Given that he has spent his formative years in young offenders institutions this was never going to be easy. It is however made harder by the creation of a Facebook group aimed at finding him. While the group was created by the murdered boy’s mother to seek an answer as to why he killed, another member has a more physical retribution in mind. The question is can Cate Austin his probation officer discover who Silent Friend is before they find Humber Boy B.
This is a thought-provoking book, which has echoes of the Bulger case in regard to the release of John Venables and the outcry that it aroused. Humber Boy B is viewed by society as an evil child killer, who will forever be remembered as the 10-year-old boy who pushed his friend from the bridge. Cate however tries to see him as the individual that he is and tries to understand why he did what he did.
The author worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade in high security prisons in Suffolk, including work with children who have been convicted of murder, so she is well placed to write a book on a subject that undoubtedly divides opinion. In this instance I think she has done a good job. Her treatment of Humber Boy B does not try to mitigate the horror of what he did, or suggest that he wasn’t responsible. Instead it seeks so find out why he chose to take the action he did, and to try to understand what drove him rather than accepting the general opinion that he was evil. It is dealt with in a sensitive and balanced way and all the characters are believable and real.
The book progresses by alternating between then and now creating a mounting tension until the details of the murder are finally revealed. However the book has several layers – it’s not just about Humber Boy B, but about the lasting effects of his actions on others and how he is perceived. It is also about Cate and her life. While struggling to do her best against resistance even within her own department she also has demons of her own to face which act as a contrast to the main unfolding story. The book ends with a final twist that is as shocking as it is dramatic and was totally unforeseen.
This was a great read and I’m pleased to read that Cate is to make a re-appearance in Ruth’s next book.