Review: The Stone Balancer by John Townsend

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The Stone Balancer finds a unique niche in that it’s the only murder mystery novel I’ve read where the detective is also a criminal. While trying to solve the murder of a young journalist investigating a big story in a coastal town, protagonist Fin is on the run for arson himself.

When Fin’s mother is diagnosed with MDS, she needs chemotherapy and awaits a stem cell donor match in hospital. This leaves Fin under the care of an abusive uncle who tries to force him to come up his inheritance. Meanwhile, Fin and his friend Sophie have been investigating the death of a journalist, previously dismissed by the authorities as a suicide. The two teens are convinced it’s murder due to a character witness from the journalist’s close friend, and a marginal piece of evidence found on the beach.

As clues stack up to the ‘suicide’ being murder, and sinister proceedings are uncovered in the town, Fin is forced to run away after his uncle reports him as unstable and violent. Both the police and the murderers now hunt for Fin as he attempts to both clear his name and uncover the guilty party.

There is a lot of plot to this novel, with clues pointing to the murder and the backdrop of Fin’s escape from the authorities. The build-up is good and the action scenes are exciting. I was impressed with how the author spaced out the novel; it could have easily gone from one chase to the next without much plot between, but luckily that wasn’t the case. Ironically the only time Fin wasn’t being hunted by the police was when he was near the murderers, because they too were avoiding the authorities.

One of the issues I found with this novel was the cringeworthy dialogue. I don’t know if fourteen year olds are genuinely this cringe inducing or I was a bit too old for their humour, but there were definitely a few awful moments of conversation in this novel. For example, when her grandmother mistakes Fin for a hooligan Sophie tells her she ‘should have gone to Specsavers’ and proceeds to giggle at her own joke. If this wasn’t bad enough, she adds ‘hashtag big mistake’ further on in the conversation. When the conversations convey information they were fine, but the jokes or colloquial comments the characters made didn’t come across well.

Like most mystery novels this one does contain a twist, but not about the murder itself. The twist comes about two-thirds of the way through the novel and you won’t be expecting it, no matter how much sense it makes when it arrives. It explains bits of the novel I didn’t realise needed explaining; I was impressed with how the author had snuck this in without me realising.

Overall The Stone Balancer is a good read. I enjoyed the plot and the writing style but would recommend it for teenagers in the younger teenage bracket. Although the humour doesn’t come across very well the novel is well written and Fin is an engaging interesting narrator.

The Stone Balancer is out now via Raven Books, an imprint of Ransom Publishers. Check out their website here.

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I am a third-year computer scientist. As a lover of fantasy and massive bookworm, when not behind a screen I can be found with my nose in a YA novel or attempting to write something. I'm a tragic cook but a pretty keen coder. Can be found on Twitter @hannah_dadd .

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