Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton
There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with accusing glares and anonymous harassment. Now her husband is dead, and there’s no reason to stay quiet. People want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth–that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything. For the reporter who has secured the exclusive interview, this is the scoop of a lifetime. For the detective who has lived a half-life since he failed to get justice for the victim, it is a chance to get at the truth that has eluded him for so long. For Jean, it’s a chance to defend herself, what she knew–and when.
This is the tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the main suspect, the detective leading the hunt, and the journalist covering the case. It’s a brilliantly ominous, psychologically acute portrait of a marriage in crisis–perfect for fans of The Silent Wife and The Girl on the Train.
Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, had been on my reading radar for some time. Since taking up the mystery/thriller genre again (in part due to the writing of Gillian Flynn, Robert Galbraith and Anna Lee Huber), I am often on the search for something taut, compelling and surprising. While there have been some letdowns with titles that were lauded as the ‘next big thing’ or ‘the next Gone Girl’, I found myself quite engrossed in Barton’s novel.
Told in rotating multiple narratives, with the primary narrative being the first-person narrative of ‘the widow’, Jean Taylor, Barton’s novel is a carefully paced, slow to build and burn thriller. I personally found Jean’s narrative- at times- strangely the least compelling of the lot: much of what we think we know of and about Jean comes to the surface late in the novel and serves to explain, but for the more impatient readers, it could be too little too late. The most intriguing and heartbreaking narrative was that of Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes. Without giving anything away here, I will say that I found his perspective and obsession in his work and on this one frightening missing child’s case wonderfully done by the author. I would argue that some of Barton’s strongest and most captivating writing was in passages involving the investigation into Glen Taylor (and his predilections), the insights into Jean and Glen’s eerie relationship, and the gritty nature of investigative police work into missing children’s cases. The way in which Barton climbs into Jean and Glen’s relationship and marriage, and how she delves into disturbing psychologies- and the extend to which so many things remain hidden and appear superficially normal- is quite fascinating and impressive.
Uncomfortable, quietly tense and evoking a sad that creeps beyond the bones, The Widow is a solid suspense novel. I think that readers who enjoy harder British mysteries, or those who like their thrillers on the slower, more muted yet still visceral side of things, might especially find interest in The Widow. Barton’s writing is capable and crisp, while maintaining a clear eye on the weaving plotlines and multiple characters and narrations. I look forward to reading what Barton does next- and whether she stays within the suspense genre or branches beyond.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada via Goodreads First Reads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.