Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

the widow fiona barton paper trail diary

The Widow, by Fiona Barton, out now via Penguin Random House.

[I received this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]

This is the story of a widow, a reporter and a detective.

The Widow is a new psychological thriller that lines up in recommendations with The Girl on a Train and Gone Girl – multiple accounts on multiple timelines, an unreliable narrator, a feminine vulnerability and compelling writing. Jean Taylor is the widow in question: up until now, she’s been the silent wife of Glen Taylor, a suspicious character. But he died when he was hit by a bus. Now the press and police have come for Jean – trying to get her to talk about how Glen was suspected of kidnapping a little girl. What could she know? For years, Glen had pressured Jean into silence. Now it’s up to Jean to decide: keep quiet or tell the truth?

Jean met Glen when she was young. He took care of her, brought her under his wing. He made all the other women swoon. She happily accepted her new life as a simple accessory to his. But Glen spent a lot of time being nitpicky on the way the home was kept and nights locked away in the home office on the computer, not telling Jean what he was doing.

…I think I always knew there was something going on in there. That’s when I started calling it ‘his nonsense.’ Meant I could talk about it out loud. He didn’t like it being called that, but he couldn’t really say anything, could he? It was such a harmless word. ‘Nonsense.’ Something and nothing. But it wasn’t nothing. It was filth. Things that no one should see, let alone pay to look at.

Kate Waters is the reporter – skilled at getting so chummy with sources that they think of her as a friend. She’s dedicated to Jean’s story, she wants that scoop. She’s also friends with the detective, often trading information.

She loved it. Loved the adrenaline rush of getting to the doorstep first, ahead of the pack, ringing the bell and hearing the sounds of life inside the house, seeing the light change in the frosted glass as the person approached and then, as the door opened, going into full performance mode.

Bob Sparkes is the detective who ends up too invested in the case of the missing girl. He spends years trying to figure it out between all the dead ends and gut feelings. Bob becomes haunted by the little girl and the case.

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.

Though I’d say the first half of The Widow was a bit slow and steady, it definitely picked up. I think because of the book comparisons I was expecting something more exciting – though I wasn’t expecting the actual crime that was discussed throughout the book. It will give you some heebie jeebies. The writing is really smooth and well thought out – I could see it playing out like a film (the book has actually been optioned for a TV drama). I was most interested in the commentary on how reporters and detectives handle cases like these, but Jean kept me curious throughout. Her subtle hints and deep-rooted needs will hold on to you and keep your empathy or suspicion. It wasn’t until I was finished the book that I could think back on how I enjoyed it, as I think I was stressed out for a good portion of the reading, (why the heck did I read this on Christmas?). I would recommend it. I think it will be a big thriller pick for the year, and it made me want to read more of this genre of which I’m still a newbie in.

Do you like reading psychological thrillers? What would you recommend? 

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