Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press
14th January, 2016
Exceptional. This is one of many superlatives that can be employed to describe former Daily Telegraph News Editor Fiona Barton’s first foray into the world of crime fiction with The Widow. If this is the bar over which other authors have to attempt to leap, then it is indeed going to be a memorable year.
The novel is centred on Jeanie, a woman whose husband Glen, an HGV driver, is accused of abducting a two year old girl. The question is, how much does Jeanie know?
Told through a series of flashbacks, many of which overlap with the perspectives of The Detective assigned to solving the missing child case and The Reporter assigned to get “the exclusive” from Jeanie, the pace is relentless and the emotional turmoil each twist – and there are so many of them – takes on the reader is as exhausting as it is captivating.
Yet it is Barton’s ability to invoke a sense of sympathy and loathing in equal measure that truly sets this novel apart. Her cut-to-the-bone descriptions lay bare the affecting attributes of the narrative and so, uniquely, bring the more disturbing elements to the fore with a force that is almost unexpectedly ruthless.
If there is one element that takes The Widow down a little it is that The Detective might be seen as being a little too weak, yet when aligned with The Reporter, Sparkes really comes to life and – along with his fellow characters – finally gets under the skin of his audience and so urges them forward to what it is a tremendous, evocative conclusion.
The Widow is quite possibly the most pre-buzzed novel of 2016. Having had the unmitigated pleasure of reading it, none of the hype is overstated.