Published January 17, 2017, by Berkley Books
Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Crime Mystery
Format: Trade Paperback
Page Count: 344 pages (including an excerpt of The Child)
** Warning: Mild Spoilers**
She has no idea what I’ve been through. No one has really. I’ve never been able to tell anyone. Glen said that was best.
Two-year-old Bella Elliott went missing from her front garden on one October afternoon. Immediately, the police suspected that someone had taken her and they began their search for Bella and the suspects in earnest. That search eventually led detectives to the front door of Glen and Jean Taylor.
What follows is the account of the case built against unassuming Glen Taylor – its promises and missteps, its discoveries and its secrecies – told by the detective in charge of the case, the reporter who got exclusive access, and Glen’s wife (now widow) who supported his innocence relentlessly.
You see, Glen was disappearing from my life really. He was there but not there, if you know what I mean. The computer was more of a wife than I was — in all sorts of ways, as it turned out.
The primary “star” of the book is Jean (prefers Jeanie) Taylor, the accused’s wife. After her husband is suddenly killed in a freak accident, the detectives and press are hounding her to finally spill her secrets. What does she know about baby Bella’s kidnapping? Is Glen guilty of the crime? Is she also involved? Jeanie’s stalwart defense of her husband thwarts the investigation repeatedly, but everyone can tell – even the reader – that Jeanie knows more than she’s saying. And those secret things are revealed only gradually, like a slow-dripping faucet leak – building up and then eventually dropping down once the pressure is too much to take.
Jeanie is an immensely interesting and layered character. She garners sympathy because on the surface she appears to be damaged goods – the unlucky widow of an accused kidnapper and pedophile. But as Jeanie’s layers are peeled back, sympathy is replaced by anger, pity, understanding, and judgment in incongruent amounts. For some, she will be entirely relatable. For others, she will be an embarrassment to women for not being stronger, more forthright, or more independent.
It’s quite nice really, to have someone in charge of me again. I was beginning to panic that I’d have to cope with everything on my own…
Fiona Barton writes an engrossing and nail-biting novel about family loyalty wrapped in the cover of a frantic crime mystery. My personal loyalties and trust ping-ponged from character to character, often changing from chapter to chapter. Who is guilty? Who is truly innocent?
If Glen and Jeanie did steal Bella, where is she now? Could Jeanie have acted alone and she’s just outsmarting everyone by allowing Glen to take the fall? That wouldn’t have been too far-fetched since she was desperate for a child after years of dealing with Glen’s sterility. Could that longing have pressured her into doing something terrible?
But if that was the case, why would Jeanie be wary of Glen after the first investigation falls apart and he is freed? She doesn’t want to go back to their house with him, but her loyalty compels her to do so without complaint. This is one of the moments when I wanted to slap her out of her stupor. SAY SOMETHING, JEANIE! But she doesn’t. Again.
All I keep thinking is that I’ve got to go home with him. Be on my own with him. What will it be like when we shut the door? I know too much about this other man I’m married to for it to be like before.
Barton’s supporting characters are equally as interesting: Glen with his secret porn addiction and control-freak tendencies; Kate Waters, the intrepid reporter who fights her own personal sympathies to get to the dirt of the story; and Bob Sparkes, the veteran detective who has been unable to help letting Bella’s case get too close to him.
The Widow is a book I was reluctant to put down – even when real life responsibilities were pulling at me. It sucked me in! I love an unreliable narrator, it makes the mystery even more, well… mysterious! Plus, I love a great whodunit not told exclusively from the POV of the police force. We’ve got almost everyone’s perspective here – even the grieving mother’s. It adds depth to the suspense and the action is in more places at the same time.
Readers who love an easily read crime mystery with great character development and a fast plot (that doesn’t feel rushed) will enjoy The Widow. Although it felt good to be able to foretell certain aspects of the story (I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glen’s accident wasn’t entirely accidental), it took nothing away from the tense build-up and ultimate “aha-moment” denouement. I would definitely recommend it to others.
About the Author
My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world. The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know. Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists. It gave me the confidence to write a second book, The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.
(Bio adapted from Fiona Barton’s website)