“I know who you are, Mrs. Taylor,” she says. Unspoken are the words, “You are the story.”
The Widow starts right in the midst of action as Glen Taylor is hit by an oncoming bus, dying immediately on impact. Standing idly by is his wife Jean, who’s secretly glad he’s gone because it means “no more of his nonsense.” Four years earlier, a police investigation is carried out when toddler Bella Elliot goes missing after being snatched from her front garden – and Glen is the prime suspect. This story follows five characters in the years between Bella’s disappearance up until Glen’s death; The Widow, The Reporter, The Detective, The Mother, The Husband.
Certainly an intriguing premise to any novel, I was certainly curious to find out more. The start of the book had a foreward by the author, Fiona Barton, as she spoke about her career in journalism, and how she was always interested in the families of criminals. Who were these women who stood by their men in the courtroom? What did they know? And due to Barton’s own journalistic background, we get to see the inside of a journalist’s head and just how far they will go to get a story.
I’ll start with the positives. Barton is definitely a great writer and I was really suprised that The Widow was her debut novel. She managed to give each of her characters a distinctive voice so that they didn’t meld into one; each person had a different motive, a different perspective. You can also tell that Barton is very keen on human interest stories, looking into the lives of ordinary people and the everyday tragedies they all go through.
However, despite a great hook and intriguing characters, a lot of the book fell very flat. While the story’s premise was very interesting to me, I found it hard to keep going throughout some parts because, honestly, it can be quite dull at times. It’s definitely a slow-burner. I listened to this on Audible, and usually I zoom through audio books but this one took me a month to finish – unfortunatly I just wasn’t motivated to keep coming back to it. The narrative also keeps jumping back and forth in time, and while this can be effective in slowly unraveling parts of the story, the constant flipping through time can get a bit confusing if you’re not paying close attention.
The characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Jean, the titular widow, sits at the centre of the story, and her chapters are the only ones in first person. I didn’t know what to make of her, she seemed like a little girl trapped in an older woman’s body, even though she’s only in her mid to late thirties. You can tell from the off-set that there’s something not quite right about her. However, you can understand why she is this way when you see the relationship with her husband Glen, who is very manipulative and mentally abusive towards her. All the more reason to wonder – why is she standing by her potential murderer of a husband?
The police team investigating Bella’s abduction felt laughable at points. If I ever went missing, I certainly wouldn’t want them investigating my case. I think Detective Bob Sparks, who took a personal interest in this case, was someone we were supposed to sympathise with, but I just found him irratingly stupid. The Reporter, Kate Waters, felt like the most authentic of the bunch, but again, this is probably due to Barton’s own background in journalism. Having this array of characters felt over-crowded at times with all of the different perspectives from the characters. I felt if one or two of them were dropped, it wouldn’t really hurt the story at all, and would perhaps give Barton the opportunity to focus on other areas.
You know how I said in my review of The Girl on the Train that I was bad at guessing whodunit? Well, I managed to guess right this time! Although admittedly, it was more of a ‘I wonder if it was this…‘ all throughout the novel, but it turned out that my first guess was right. Does that count? Who knows. Without spoiling too much, the novel ends on more of a soft punch rather than a big reveal, and it’s definitely not as twisty-turny as the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.
Having said that, The Widow really isn’t a bad debut at all, and I would recommend for anyone to give this a go if there were a fan of domestic/psychological thrillers, however I wouldn’t suggest starting with this if you’re just getting into the genre.
I give this a 2.5 out of 5, but rounded up to 3 on Goodreads, which probably says something.
“The thing is that people who lie often have something to hide.”