Title: The Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From the award-winning author of The Missing Place—in which “Littlefield’s writing shines” (The Boston Globe)—another gripping exploration of the damage people can do to each other, and the resilience they find in themselves.
A man stands on the Golden Gate Bridge, poised to jump…if a woman on the other end of the phone tells him to.
Maris’s safe suburban world was shattered the day her daughter was found murdered, presumably at the hands of the young woman’s boyfriend. Her marriage crumbling, her routine shattered, Maris walks away from her pampered life as a Bay Area mom the day she receives a call from Ron, father of her daughter’s killer. Wracked with guilt over his son’s actions (and his own possible contribution to them), he asks Maris a single question: should he jump?
With a man’s life in her hands, Maris must decide, perhaps for the first time, what she truly wants. Retribution? Forgiveness? Or something more? Having lost everything, she’s finally free to recreate herself without the confining labels of “wife,” “mother,” or “mourner.” But will this shocking offer free her, or destroy her?
The Guilty One by Sophie Littlefield is an intriguing character study that focuses primarily on two parents whose lives are forever intertwined by a senseless murder. What makes the premise of the novel so fascinating is one character is Maris Parker, the mother of the murdered teen while the other character is Ron Isherwood, the father of the convicted killer. The story begins about six weeks after the trial has ended and in the aftermath of the conviction, both families are attempting to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
For the past year, Maris has been paralyzed by overwhelming grief and her life has come to a virtual standstill. Now the trial is over, the sentence has been handed down and she must figure out what comes next for her. Her husband, Jeff, has moved out and announced he wants a divorce. While she contemplates her future, she is planning to spend a few weeks with her sister. She is rather ambivalent about the upcoming visit and after her car is broken into, Maris befriends a young woman and impulsively rents an apartment in her building where she begins re-evaluating her life.
Unlike his wife, Deb, Ron has never been completely convinced of his son’s innocence and after his conviction, Ron cannot bring himself to visit him in prison. He has come to the realization that his family’s history of violence might have passed down to his son and he is overcome with guilt for his son’s crime. Like Maris, Ron has essentially checked out life and as the story begins, he is finally ready to end his own life in a misguided effort to atone for his son Karl’s misdeeds. However, Ron makes a fateful decision to phone Maris before jumping which essentially saves his life and winds up being the impetus for both of them to truly move forward with their lives.
Both Ron and Maris are sympathetic characters but it is sometimes difficult to like them. Maris is not honest with her new friends and she takes a little too long to come clean about her past. She is also incredibly angry with Jeff and her anger seems a little over the top considering that she made her share of mistakes during their marriage. It is also very frustrating how Maris continually avoids confrontation instead of facing it head on. Her grief over her daughter’s death is particularly heartbreaking but her new friends and simpler lifestyle provide her with a different perspective that helps Maris decide what she wants in life.
Ron grew up in an abusive household and he has tried very hard to leave his violent past behind him. He kept much of what occurred in his childhood hidden from Deb and he has worked hard to maintain tight control over his own aggressive tendencies. Looking back, Ron now wonders if he was too hard on Karl and one incident in particular continues to haunt him. One of the biggest questions that weighs heavily on Ron is how much responsibility he bears for his son’s actions. In hindight, he cannot but question his decision to have children considering his family’s history.
With underlying themes of forgiveness and redemption, The Guilty One is a compelling novel. Although not a true mystery, Sophie Littlefield builds suspense about Karl’s guilt or innocence and the resolution of this part of the storyline is full of unexpected twists and turns. Overall, it is an engaging story that is poignant, thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying.