Boy A by Jonathan Trigell

Boy A, the award-winning debut novel by Jonathan Trigell, is loosely based on a real murder case. A very young boy was led away from a shopping mall by two ten year olds who then murdered him. The two boys, first identified as Child A, and Child B, were tried for murder in adult court and sentenced to 8 years. Their case became an international sensation. I remember seeing the CCTV footage of the two boys leading James Bulger away on the evening news here in California. The sentence sparked outrage and was lengthened to 15 years by the British government before the European courts reduced it to the original 8. Child A and Child B were released in 2001 and currently live under new identities on life licences, which means they can be returned to custody if at any time the British police determine they are a treat to public safety.

Jonathan Trigell uses the basic outline of the case in his novel Boy A to address the question of what to do with extremely violent children, but Boy A should not be viewed as a fictional telling of the case. Mr. Trigell said in an interview that he was intrigued by the idea of a young man in his twenties who is completely innocent of how the world works, and that this idea was the genisus for his novel. Boy A alternates between the present day, following what happens to the surviving boy, and flashbacks that deal with other points of view: Boy A’s father, Boy B, Boy A’s psychiatrist, among others. This makes it possible to give the reader a very sympathetic portrait of the young killer; we see how hard it is for him to face life outside of the institutions he’s spent so much time in as well as how difficult his life both before and during the years he spent incarcerated was. This aspect of Boy A is fascinating reading. Mr. Trigell gives us an in-depth case study of Boy A that makes it clear how he ended up committing a murder at such a young age and forces us to examine what we believe should be done with such children. While he has done a horrific thing, Boy A is a child and remains one throughout the book.

Boy A begins to break down toward the end. There are too many plot contrivances and a finish that is essentially a grand car chase sequence, and the final ending, a cross between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The 400 Blows is a bit of a cop-out in my view. After 200 pages of intriguing psychological profile and character study, that was hard to put down although not much really happened, I thought it a shame that the last 50 pages relied on so many “exciting” plot developments. The true story, though mostly rumor, is much more interesting.

While not without its weaknesses, Boy A by Jonathan Trigell is an excellent read. The characters are well drawn and each add to the discussion of how Boy A ended up in prison and of what to do with such children once they are grown. It’s a story that will stay with you after you’ve finished the book, that’s for sure.


I first published this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B.  I am currently, slowly, migrating my old reviews to this new blog.