Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow by Fiona BartonThe Widow

by Fiona Barton
Bantam Press
14 Jan 2016
320 pages


Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher via This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

About The Widow:

Glen Taylor, suspected child abductor, is instantly killed when stepping in front of a bus. Now we will never know if he did, indeed, kidnap and murder 2-year-old Bella. Or will we?

Left behind is his widow, Jean Taylor. Did she know she was living with a monster? Or was she as ignorant and naive as she’s appeared during the search for Bella and the trial? It is from her perspective and that of a reporter and a detective that the mystery around Bella’s disappearance slowly unravels.

Unreliable narration at its best

What makes THE WIDOW such a fascinating psychological thriller is its choice of POV. Jean Taylor is the epitome of the „unreliable narrator“ – a narrative trick of genius which has recently gained a huge fanbase (Think GONE GIRL or GIRL ON THE TRAIN).

We follow the investigation – mostly in hindsight, merging into the present – through Jean’s eyes, those of newspaper reporter Kate and of Bob Sparkes, head of the police investigation. While Kate’s view is defined by her reporter’s instincts for sensationalism and uncovering the „truth“ and Detective Sparkes is driven by an increasingly desperate need to bring the kidnapper to justice, Jean’s perspective remains nebulous throughout large parts of the book.

The cold-hearted widow

She appears emotionally numb, cold to a certain degree. While her feelings for Glen seem to have been dominated by a child-like devotion to her husband in the past, we see hate and disgust emerging as the investigation proceeds. And yet, we keep wondering how much she knew, if she was involved and what her motives are for protecting Glen even beyond his death.

The tabloid reporter

Kate’s side of the story fascinatingly portrays the dilemma between genuine investigative journalism and the sensationalist demands of a newspaper fighting for dominance in the race for „news“. Kate’s motives, too, are ambivalent. Her kindness toward Jean may be as much part of her nature as it is a means to an end.

The dedicated detective

The only likeable character in THE WIDOW is Detective Sparkes. He is the only one who seems to care about Bella, and he doggedly pursues the investigation even when both his job and his marriage are on the line. We cling to his sense of justice, of doing the right thing, of bringing closure to this haunting case. It is a good thing that Barton does not completely paint him as a white knight – she adds shades of grey when it comes to Sparke’s marital problems.

Page turner with no need for special effects

Although THE WIDOW is a true thriller, it is certainly not an action-packed, fast-paced one. True to pychological thriller form, the story develops an irresistible pull as the puzzle pieces, one by one, fall into place, sometimes confusingly rearranging themselves, not revealing the whole picture until the very end. Barton chronicles the minutiae of modern police investigations, the small successes, the pitfalls, the disappointment at wrong leads. Several more POVs add to the puzzle and integrate the reader into the investigative team, pondering clues, burning to close the case.

Trigger warning – child pornography

For those who need a trigger warning, be advised that child pornography is at the center of this case. It is treated without explicit scenes, but only hinting at what’s going on in that cesspool of pedophile aberration makes the reader flinch in horror and disgust.

Final judgment on THE WIDOW

With THE WIDOW, Fiona Barton has proven that thrillers don’t need gore, violence or even action to become real page turners. A clever, haunting case and a set of remarkable characters and unreliable narrators drive this book to a quiet, chilling showdown. In the end, there isn’t relief, but a sense of closure. And of having read a really good book.

My rating:

10 out of 10 points




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