“The Widow” by Fiona Barton arrives from England recommended as “twisty psychological suspense” and “an electrifying debut thriller.” I didn't see it as either of these. It's more like a jigsaw puzzle. From the get-go you know how the final picture looks: in this case, you soon realize that Glen Taylor is the villain who abducted two-year old Bella Elliott. As a reader, your job is to put the pieces together: to figure out how he did it and why, and how much his wife Jean knew or guessed during the months of police investigation and the years in which suspicion swirled around him. The titular character is Jean Taylor and the novel maps her journey as the loving and devoted wife of accused murderer, Glen.
Each chapter is told from a different perspective of those involved in the case, including the skeptical detective, the savvy reporter and the worn-down widow (which she is perfectly portrayed). Barton expertly jumps back and forth between time frames from the original date that 'Baby Bella' vanished from her front garden, to the present day where Jean Taylor is dealing with the repercussions of her husband's sudden death. As the story unfolds, Barton sheds light on the turmoil that Jean faces, desperate to protect the man she loves, but each day growing more concerned for the truth about Bella's disappearance.
The reader soon discovers that Jean and Glen's relationship was riddled with its own problems; Glen's secrecy, Jean's obsession with children and the fact the couple were never able to reproduce. The character of Kate, the hard-nosed reporter is also fascinating as she manages to gain the trust of many of the key players within the case. As the story develops, it is extraordinary to watch the changes in each character, as new pieces of information are revealed from past and present. This progression is beautifully crafted and we soon start to question the honesty of Jean's perspective and she transforms into the ultimate unreliable narrator.
It's an odd book…you can't put it down but it can come off as a bit boring which could just be Jean. What you read in the first couple chapters *is* the story.....the rest of the novel just takes you through how the characters deal with the fall-out. If you're looking for a psychological thriller (which is what I favor, so it did disappoint me some), you'll be disappointed. But if you just want an interesting story that is really just a look at people's lives while they deal with this tragedy, then you might enjoy it. I've been surprised to see so many high marks…don't get me wrong, the writing is wonderful but saying this is a “thriller” when there is no suspense at all is very misleading.
The only way I would recommend this to a friend is if you changed its genre.
I give this book 3 Stars