Monday, March 7, 2016

The Widow: a psychological thriller by Fiona Barton

Are you ready for a character-driven, can't-put-down, psychological crime tale? Are you a fan of the British crime drama Broadchurch, and looking for a novel that recreates that tone and experience? A recent reading from debut novelist, Fiona Barton, makes me think that this is what you're looking for.

As a journalist, Fiona Barton was intrigued by the people who existed just on the edge of the story, and this is what she turns to in The Widow.

Jean Taylor is that character - the wife of suspected pedophile Glen Taylor. And although the main story may appear to be about Glen and his possible involvement in the disappearance of young Bella Elliott, what the reader spends the whole book trying to learn is what and how much does Jean know. Who is Jean Taylor, really? A victim? An enabler? Or something worse?

Ms. Barton had intended Jean to be the only narrator in The Widow; however, she soon discovered that other points of view were necessary in order for the story to progress. In the end, five narrators are used throughout the four-year timeline: the determined reporter, Kate Waters; focused detective, Bob Sparkes; inconsolable young mother, Dawn Elliott; and Glen and Jean Taylor, separately. Only Jean's voice is presented in first-person narrative. The other narrators, their voices in third-person, add the building blocks of the story and are rich characters in their own right.

In Bob Sparkes we see a detective who is obsessed with catching the bad guy. And although he sees Glen as "the bloke next door" at the beginning, it doesn't take the detective long to zero in on him as the main suspect. Is Sparkes being objective with his investigation? Or is the case being tainted by an investigation team riddled with tunnel vision? Plenty of discussion can develop about real-life cases where the police were, perhaps, a little too hasty in deciding the guilt of an individual.

Sometimes aiding in the investigation is reporter Kate Waters, a confident and direct journalist who will go to any length to get the story. She is a reliable and likable character who acts as a barometer for truth in the novel. Will she be able to handle Jean and get the story that the whole country is after?

Dawn Elliott, the young single mother of Baby Bella, has her parenting skills and dating experiences opened up for public scrutiny in the media, as well as on the witness stand. What role has her lifestyle played in the disappearance of her daughter? Will she help or hinder the search?

And what about Glen? He's a lot of things. But a pedophile and murderer? That's for you to decide.

The Widow is smartly-written, moves at a quick pace, and gets the reader thinking. And although it deals with some unsavoury topics, there is no graphic imagery employed at all. The lack of gruesome details was much-appreciated by this reader.

Many thanks to the author, Penguin Random House Canada, and Goodreads First Reads for an Advanced Reading Copy of The Widow, in exchange for an honest review.

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