Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall
‘His body is like a starfish as it falls, limbs curling in then stretching wide.’
Noah, a ten-year-old boy, is killed after falling from the Humber Bridge in the UK. Two brothers were seen fleeing the scene. The brothers are charged. The older of the brothers, Adam, aged 14 is released after four years. The younger brother, ‘Ben’ aged 10, is found guilty of Noah’s murder and serves eight years.
Aged 18 and renamed Ben, ‘Humber Boy B’ is released into the community. Ben’s release causes uproar: Noah’s mother, Jessica, uses social media to try to track Ben down and others threaten retaliation. Ben’s probation officer, Cate Austin, together with others is charged with keeping him safe.
So, Ben is released into a community away from his family. He needs to learn to negotiate a world which has changed in eight years, and he has no idea who he can trust.
What really happened on the Humber Bridge eight years earlier? And why is Ben, the younger of the two brothers, considered more responsible for Noah’s murder than his older brother? Why was Noah with Ben and Adam in the first place?
As the story unfolds, shifting between the day of Noah’s murder and the present, we learn of Ben’s childhood, of his dysfunctional family. Did Ben ever have a chance? An indifferent alcohol-dependent mother, a stepfather who detests the sight of him. But this is only a small part of the story.
Ben is not supposed to have any contact with his mother or brother, but he’s lonely and sends his mother a card. Gradually he settles into a rhythm: he learns how to shop (but not how to cook), he’s found a job, the man he works with takes a friendly interest in him. I start to believe that Ben may be able to make a new, successful life.
But the past never lets Ben go.
There are several twists in this story, and an ending that I found incredibly sad. I kept wondering how I would react if Noah was my son. Would I, like Jessica, want to try to find answers? Could I abandon Ben, as his own family did? So many questions to consider, no satisfactory answers.
I understand that this is the third of Ruth Dugdall’s novels to feature Cate Austin. I’ve made a note to seek out the first two. This is a powerful, well-written novel.