Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

"The Widow" by Fiona Barton
First published in 2016

324 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
Fast-paced, easy read about a pedophile creep, his submissive wife, and what she knew about a crime the police suspected him of committing. It was decent, but the comparisons to "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train" are unfounded.

The Long Of It:
It occurred to me while devouring "The Widow" that it was the third book set in England about a child kidnapping that I had read in the span of a month! I certainly didn't plan that -- it just so happened that they were three of the most urgent books in my TBR pile (two ARCs and a book I'd had out from the library for two months). And, not surprisingly, if I don't read another kidnapping mystery/suspense novel for the rest of the year I'd be totally fine with that!

The other English kidnapping novels were "In Bitter Chill" by Sarah Ward (review) and "What She Knew" by Gilly Macmillan (review), and I'd say "The Widow" squeaked by as the best of the three -- it certainly had me turning pages at lightning speed! (Though I hated "What She Knew" and I'm not sure I'd fully recommend "In Bitter Chill" either, so it's not exactly a ringing endorsement!)

Jean is "The Widow" in the story -- her dirtbag husband, Glen, has just been hit and killed by a bus. The police long suspected Glen of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering a little girl but were never able to prove it it. Now that her manipulative and overbearing husband is dead, will Jean -- who stoically stood behind Glen for years, in the midst of harassment from the public, the media and the police -- reveal anything about the case? "The Detective" and "The Reporter" -- the characters who share narrating duties with Jean -- sure hope so.

I was surprised that I tolerated Jean's character so well, since I usually can't stand weak-willed protagonists. Jean's husband was a controlling, emotionally abusive, chauvinistic, despicable borderline-sociopath -- not to mention pedophile -- and as a result Jean is timid, obedient, easily bewildered and completely dependent on Glen. She automatically believes everything he tells her, including his denial of the kidnapping. But Jean begins to rediscover her sense of self throughout the book and, after Glen's death, even agrees to give an exclusive tell-all interview about the case to an intrepid newspaper reporter.

Overall, "The Widow" was a decent book -- I liked the separate narrators and the writing was ok, though the dual timelines could be a bit confusing at times. It certainly had readability; I was turning pages like crazy. But I think I once again got sucked into the comparison to "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train," the magic of which is pretty damn hard to replicate. And when I see a book marketed for fans of "Gone Girl," I expect a big ol' twist at the end -- and sadly, this book had none. I also thought the ending was a bit abrupt, and I would've liked an epilogue to see where Jean is a few years later. And, though I was desperate to learn the truth about Glen, Jean and the murder, I didn't really feel connected to Jean or our other narrators, reporter Kate and detective Bob.

However, "The Widow" wasn't a bad read -- it was fast-paced, intriguing, horrifying and a passable pick for when you want a quick page-turner. Just don't buy into the "psychological thriller" hype -- while a good story, this book is not that.

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