What a delightfully creepy, slow-burning novel The Widow is. We have been treated in recent years to psychological thrillers such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and it has to be said, Fiona Barton has crafted a thriller that is bound to have everyone talking in 2016—and on her debut at that.
Follow Jean Taylor, the titular ‘widow’, as she tries to deal with the loss of her husband Glen and the can of worms his death has finally unlocked once and for all. Now the secrets won’t stay locked away in a dark desk drawer; no longer will the mysterious remain private, hidden behind closed doors and password-protected computer files.
Narrated from multiple perspectives, The Widow tells the story of a missing 2-year-old girl, Bella—her mother, Dawn, leaving her outside alone for “just a minute”—and how detective Bob Sparkes will never cease in his mission to track down her abductor, a man he believes is Glen Taylor. The problem is, no matter how hard he digs, there isn’t any tangible evidence. A liar? Yes. A man with dark secrets? Absolutely. A kidnapper and a paedophile? Bob can’t find the answers he needs.
The story starts with Glen dead, but it unfolds with him very much alive—in the form of flashbacks—as we dive deep into Jean and Glen’s marriage, and discover everything that comes with it: the secrecy, the arguments—but most of all, the loyalty. Jean lies at her husband’s bequest, but the dynamic is a fascinating one: she has secrets of her own, and Glen is familiar with her weakness, what exactly makes her tick. The suspicion lands on both as their bond tightens during the inquiries from the police. Jean kept her mouth shut when her husband was alive, but what will she say now?
Some of the best parts of this novel come when we get to witness Kate at work—a newspaper reporter who will stop at nothing to get the scoop that all of the biggest journalists want. Offers of hotel rooms, spa services, and the works— all designed to get Jean out of her shell and finally spill the gossip that she and her editor covet. She is a dog with a bone, and it is interesting to see how she develops as a character the more she learns. This is Barton at her finest: crafting some great dialogue and exploring interesting morale dilemmas through an excellent character.
We have, in all honesty, seen a lot of these types of novel in recent times, but there’s something refreshingly different about Barton’s debut. Sure, there’s twists and turns aplenty—and an ending that is executed nicely—but The Widow offers more that just your usual “whodunit”.
It’s a psychological thriller in the proper sense: a teasing, penetrating look at that fact that, when all’s said and done, everyone has a breaking point.
The Widow by Fiona Barton, is out on January 14 – online and in all good bookstores.