Jean Taylor has just lost her husband Glen. Rather than being able to mourn she is soon inundated with press knocking at her door. For years earlier Glen was implicated in the disappearance of a 2 year old girl, Bella, who has never been found. The press believe that Jean really knows what went on. And they want her to let them know. So does the police officer who has been investigating Bella’s disappearance and Bella’s mother. And as for Jean. She thinks it may be time to set the record straight. Or does she?
I am loathe to use terms like ‘the next [insert popular book here] or comment on how accomplished a book is just because it is written by a debut author. A book should be considered on its own merits rather than compared with other (bestselling) titles. If a book is well written it doesn’t matter if it is the author’s first or 21st. And this book is well written. It is engaging, dark, compelling reading. It is the book version of a juicy headline or car crash TV. However much one may loath the media’s intrusion into daily lives, it’s relentless call for justice, it’s rabble rousing and political motivations this story encompasses all of them. It is an indictment on the state of the world, our need to know everything, the press being the driving force, and the phenomena that is trial by media. And as much as I’m loathe to say it one day future books will be stamped with the tag line ‘If you liked Fiona Barton’s The Widow you’ll love…’
I am usually underwhelmed when I read a book that has received such publicity. I build the idea up in my mind that the book is going to be more than it is and it invariably doesn’t live up to expectations, which is not fair on the book or the author. I was lucky to read this book a while before it’s planned publication and before the publicity for this had mounted. I therefore had no expectations. Luckily I read this book without any preconceptions of how I should find it. I don’t know if this has altered my opinion of the book but I have to say I did love it. Not initially. At first I was thinking it may not live up to the anticipated hype. The characters grated and the story was hinted at too much and not shown. But the more I read, the more I was pulled into the story.
It is a very modern novel, the judgement of a single act, the assumption that a wife must know more than she is letting on, the reliance on social media and the dangers that await if one is lulled into its confidence.
The chapters flit between 2010 when Glen Taylor has just died and to points in the past from the time Bella has disappeared. Each chapter is led from the point of view of one of the main characters. It is telling that Glen, the driving force behind the whole situation, does not have his own chapter until near the close of the book. This is not a ‘whodunit’ but a ‘did he do it’. This is less a story about a crime, than about the influence of media and social media on modern life, how it influences our daily lives and makes us judges and sinners in equal measure.
The characters are all well defined. I didn’t particularly like the majority of them but Fiona Barton shows her skill as a writer by extracting those feelings from the reader. Jean is a strange character. Almost down trodden there is a steely determination behind that quiet façade and hints of something more off kilter. Each of the main characters are flawed. The opportunistic journalist who seems to have Jean’s best interests at heart but is driven to get the scoop, the police officer who has let the case take over his life, and the mother of Bella, whose own interaction with media, both traditional and social media, makes the reader stop and think.
If you want to loose yourself in a gripping, dark, compelling ‘domestic noir’ then this is the book for you.
Now I’m just waiting for the next book from Fiona Barton.