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The Widow by Fiona Barton

January 23, 2016

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.
But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?
Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.
Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.
But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.
Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

It may just be me, but I seem to have been reading a lot of novels recently that come tagged with the ‘psychological thriller’ epithet but which turn out to be nothing of the sort. Not the writer’s fault, of course, but irritating nonetheless.

Fiona Barton’s The Widow is not what I would describe as a psychological thriller, but it is a well written piece of crime fiction and taken from an unusual perspective – that of the wife of the alleged perpretrator and the journalist who is out for an exclusive from her.

Bella is the missing child, presumed dead, but whose body has never been found.

Bob Sparkes is the detective who has spent years trying to find Bella and convinced of Glen’s guilt but unable to prove it. Kate Waters is the journalist chasing the story.
The journalist sounds and feels realistic – anyone who has had to deal with the media scrum will recognise the tactics and ploys of Kate and her colleagues as they endeavour to get the widow, Jean to tell her exclusive story.

There isn’t much in the way of emotional depth to this novel – it is difficult to feel any attachment to the characters and even the victim is pretty much a cypher. But the subject matter, paedophilia and murder is of course quite dreadful and it sits at the back of your mind as you read this book – knowing what an awful crime has been committed, how can Jean really not have told everything she knows?

Jean is an interesting character – it soon becomes clear that the reader cannot completely trust her narrative. Is she the put upon wife, submissive to all her husband’s demands, subjugated to such an extent that she not only no longer asks questions but is even acquiescent to the horrors of his alleged behaviour?

The timeline moves back and forwards with Jean’s first person narrative and the alternate voices of Bob Sparkes and Kate Waters as we gain an insight into the lives of Jean and Glen and their marriage.

Now that Glen is dead, we only have Jean’s version of events to understand what really happened – and it’s clear that we can’t rely on everything she says. Jean is not an obviously sympathetic character and we know that she does harbour some secrets. But are they so terrible that they conceal the truth?

The Widow is a well written and immensely readable book but ultimately unsatisfying book. I think that’s because you don’t really care about any of the characters and there’s no real suspense to the plot. The police investigation feels less than thorough and so the revelations from it feel less than satisfactory.

But for all my criticisms, I enjoyed reading the book. It may not be a psychological thriller, but as a debut novel it is really very readable and I look forward to more from this writer.

The Widow by FIONA BARTON was published on  14 Jan 2016 by Bantam Press


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