All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

on January 20, 2016

WidowThe Widow
Fiona Barton
Transworld Publishers (Random House UK)
2016, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime.

But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming.

Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil.

But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms.

Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

Fiona Barton’s The Widow is a polished debut in suspense, giving us not a new story but a new spin on it. I’ve read similar things before, generally from the perspective of the jaded detective who dedicates their career to finding the one perpetrator behind a horrible crime, only to find themselves stonewalled at every turn by an accused that’s too clever or legal jargon or any other number of obstacles. In this novel although we do get that perspective it’s also split, focusing on the wife of a man accused of committing a terrible offense: the kidnap and murder of a two year old girl as well as the newspaper journalist who seeks to secure her story.

You’ve seen them before, partners of people accused of doing heinous things. They stand by them, stoic at their side while they answer questions or give a carefully prepared statement. Jean is that woman, the sort of woman that you can imagine a predator taking and moulding into what he wanted. She’s meek, doesn’t come across as particularly clever with a simple job. She keeps a nice home for Glen, her husband and so long as things go Glen’s way, their life moves on without a ripple. When things don’t go Glen’s way he turns into someone else and Jean becomes Jeanie to cope with the stress. Jeanie doesn’t ask questions. Jeanie does what her husband says, supports him totally. Jeanie doesn’t crack under police pressure either, she has her story and she sticks to it.

Fast forward and Glen is dead without ever having been convicted of the crime he was accused of. The little girl’s body has not been found and now, Jean is free. The television cameras and the reporters are hounding her day after day, desperate for her story. What does she really know? Always there has been the ever-present Glen hovering, reminding her that they don’t speak to the press. But now they sense an in and reporter Kate is the first one through the door, blithely making cups of tea and paying Jean the sort of attention she hasn’t had in years and doesn’t know how to deal with. Without doing a single things, Jean suddenly has herself an exclusive deal to tell her story…

I found myself really hooked on this story because it was obvious from the get-go that Jean knew quite a bit more than she was letting on but how much she knew and how much she was aware of knowing were the interesting questions for me. She’s painted as a very submissive wife, the sort who is utterly overrun by her husband but at the same time there are flashes….glimpses of a woman who has hidden depths, quiet means of flouting her husband’s authority.

Glen was smooth, the sort of character with an answer for every question, an alibi, a rational explanation and he was obviously a source of great frustration for the detective in charge of the case, who believed that he was the culprit but just couldn’t prove it. Couldn’t close the case for the devastated mother, couldn’t find the body of her little girl. Probably like many men before him, Glen uses his wife as part of his alibi and the dutiful Jean confirmed it over and over again under police questioning.

I found this story so interesting and horrifying as well. It makes me wonder how many times police probably know who the perpetrators are but yet they just don’t have the solid evidence they need to prove it. They know it, but can’t act on it. Makes me think of cases in Australia, like a young 3yo boy who was kidnapped over a year ago and nothing has been seen or heard of him since.

Parents of missing or kidnapped children often come under severe scrutiny from the media and the mother of the kidnapped child in this story is a young single mother on welfare. She allowed her daughter to play in the (fenced) front yard where she could supposedly be safe but it was nothing for someone to tempt her over to the fence and simply lift her over it and into a waiting car. The whole thing probably took less than ten seconds from start to finish and she finds herself criticised, lambasted for her mothering skills and not taking better care of her child. It seemed such a classic case of victim blaming, because a child should be safe in her front yard. She should be able to innocently play while her mother folds washing or god forbid has a cup of tea or even watches something on television. Parenting is hard work, especially on your own and sometimes you have to take your half hour of peace where you can. But it’s a fact that whilst a child may be safe most of the time, there will be a time when they might not be safe. When danger lurks, even though they’re just doing something they’ve done many times before. I found the intrusive presence of the media frightening in this story, the way they hounded and harassed Jean, even the way Kate manipulated and cajoled her into giving the interview, giving up pieces of her life with Glen. Jean came across as vulnerable and browbeaten and I think that journalists like to convince themselves sometimes that they’re trying to get her story for the greater good but really all they are after is the kudos for their paper and the knowledge that they succeeded where others had failed.

I really enjoyed this book – I thought it was clever, well written and although it’s not really a new story as such, it was presented in a way that made it seem very new and different. Jean was a well created character, I really did waiver on how I felt about her throughout the book many times. I liked that complication, that uncertainty in my head. I was never sure on turning the page what she was going to reveal. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Fiona Barton’s next novel.


Book #2 of 2016

One response to “Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

  1. Sounds good, a copy just turned up in the mail 🙂

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