The Widow by Fiona Barton

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The Widow by Fiona Barton is being touted as the new “Gone Girl” and that is too bad because that will force this book into unfavorable comparisons to the beloved thriller that The Widow simply cannot live up to. It is, if you turn a blind eye to the lazy and regretful marketing ads, a pretty good thriller all its own. The Widow is not the new Gone Girl, it is nothing like Gone Girl. It is, actually, a well paced and original mystery tale that delves deep into the recesses of the frail emotional psyche that is the human heart and mind.

“…I can hear the sound of her crunching up the path. Heavy-footed in high heels. She’s almost at the door, hesitating and smoothing her hair out of her face. Nice outfit: jacket with big buttons, decent dress underneath, and glasses perched on her head. Not a Jehovah’s Witness or from the Labour party. Must be a reporter, but not the usual. She’s my second one today-fourth this week, and it’s only Wednesday. I bet she says, “I’m sorry to bother you at such a difficult time.” They all say that and put on that stupid face. Like they care…”

Jean Taylor is the dutiful wife. When her husband is accused of a horrific crime she turns into a rock, the strength that helps her husband carry on. Glen Taylor is a man who never truly lived up to his potential, in business and in his personal life. But for Jean he was all she ever wanted. So for him, she became that strong and powerful woman who could weather any storm. But Glen is dead now, a victim of a tragic accident and Jean doesn’t have to be that wife anymore. Now she is the widow.

“…He looks like the bloke next door was Sparkes’s first thought. But then monsters rarely look the part. You hope you’ll be able to see the evil shining out of them-it would make police work a damned sight easier, he often said. But evil was a slippery substance, glimpsed only occasionally and all the more horrifying for that, he knew…”

DI Bob Sparkes’s would become obsessed by the disappearance of the little girl, Bella Elliot. The child taken from her front yard in broad daylight, yet no one had seemed to have seen anything out of the ordinary. Sparkes becomes convinced that the kidnapper is Glen Taylor, but how can he prove it and what are the chances that somehow, somewhere, Bella is still alive. As the case is pieced together and then falls apart, Bob begins to realize that the key to the whole thing is Jean. If he can somehow get her to talk then he can finally get to the bottom of the missing child.

“…In the dock, Taylor listened to the judge carefully, the reality slowly dawning on him that he was about to be freed. Below him, Jean Taylor looked stunned. “I wonder what she’s thinking.” Sparkes muttered to Matthews. “She’s got to go home with a porn addict who has cybersex with strangers dressed as children. And now a child killer…”

“…Did you have any doubts about him being involved, Jean?” she asks. I swallow a mouthful of coffee and shake my head. I was waiting for her to ask this-it was what the police asked me over and over again-and I’d prepared my answer. “How could I believe he would be involved in something as awful as that?” I say. “He loved children. We both did…”

But with Glen now dead, there is no reason for Jean to carry on with the charade. Now Jean thinks, years later, she is ready to talk. There is so much she hasn’t said about the day little Bella went missing. She doesn’t have to be the perfect wife anymore. She can just be herself.

Jean Taylor. The Widow.

Fiona Barton has created one of the most original and interesting characters I have come across in some time. Jean is not always likable and, as the reader, you are not always sure of her intentions and motivations. Like the Detective in the book, you will sometimes wonder how could she? How does she not see through the lies of her husband? Or is there some greater secret? Some powerful reason that she doesn’t speak up. Her sometime mousy act is misleading, but does that necessarily mean that there is guile behind it?

There are few likable characters in the book at all. Even Bella’s neglectful and self centered mother, who suddenly plays the martyred and victim while she is making a small fortune keeping the memory of her missing daughter alive. The press who lie and mislead, not to find the child, but to sensationalize the next story line. Then the police, who end up resorting to breaking the law to try and catch the kidnapper. So positive that they are after the right person that they ignore any other suspects. To Glen, the petulant pervert who blames everyone else for the failures in his life.

Finally to Jean, the most complicated and simple character you will run into. She will keep you guessing until the end and even then, once you close the book, you will still be trying to figure her out.

A very good read.

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