Author: Fiona Barton
Performed by Clare Corbett
Released on Audible: January 2016
Category: Domestic Noir, Psychological, Audiobook, Book Review
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.
There are three books in the Kate Waters series, which I didn’t realise at the time I purchased The Child (#2) so I’ve listened to them in completely the wrong order, finishing with the first story. The Widow is Fiona Barton’s debut and revolves around a missing two year old, Bella Elliott.
The story takes place over a four year period, alternating between past and present and is narrated by alternating perspectives—the widow, the reporter, the mother and the detective.
The Widow begins with Kate (the reporter) visiting Jean Taylor for her story after the sudden death (deliberate or accidental?) of her husband. Jean has been trying to hide from the press for a long time but Kate works her way in with friendliness almost before Jean realises what’s happened. Glen Taylor was the main suspect in the kidnap and suspected murder of Bella. He was found not guilty at trial due to lack of concrete evidence, despite the efforts of DI Bob Sparkes and his team. They were so focused on their belief Glen Taylor was guilty they failed to follow other avenues of investigation.
Bob Sparkes smiled the first time he heard Bella Elliott’s name. His favourite auntie—one of his mum’s flock of younger sisters—was called Bella; the joker in the pack. It was the last time he smiled for weeks.
The 999 call had come in at 15.38. The woman’s voice was breathless with grief.
’She’s been taken,’ she said. ’She’s only two. Someone has taken her—‘
On the recording, played over and over again in the ensuing days, the soothing also of the male operator could be heard in an agonizing duet with the shrill soprano of the caller.
Although the main focus of The Widow is what happened to Bella, another strong theme is the strange relationship between the Taylors. He is controlling in a calm and reasonable way, playing the role of the wronged man, while she is submissive, going along with whatever he says and standing by him in the face of all the accusations and hounding by the press. They present a face to the world which makes them, each in their own way, quite manipulative. Neither Glen nor Jean are likeable or relatable in any way and It’s soon pretty obvious Jean is an unreliable narrator—her true feelings and knowledge of events are unclear. Delving into what she does or doesn’t know forms the underlying layer of the story.
A very dark story, given the subject matter though thankfully there were no gory details, and one I’d categorise as a psychological domestic noir rather than a thriller. It was a well written, slow burning, character driven narrative, uncovering unsettling layers of obsession, flawed personas, secrets and gave a good insight into how the crime affected the people concerned. Even though parts were slow I was still drawn back to see how it played out.
I noticed the audio CD had different narrators, this Audible edition was narrated by Clare Corbett who did a great job. The voices she gave the characters were distinct, so you know who is talking immediately. There’s an interesting discussion between the author and narrator at the end about the creation of the story.
About the Author
Fiona Barton’s debut, The Widow, was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and has been published in 36 countries and optioned for television. Her second novel, The Child, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Born in Cambridge, Fiona currently lives in Sussex and south-west France. Previously, she was a senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at the Mail on Sunday, where she won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards.
While working as a journalist, Fiona reported on many high-profile criminal cases and she developed a fascination with watching those involved, their body language and verbal tics. Fiona interviewed people at the heart of these crimes, from the guilty to their families, as well as those on the periphery, and found it was those just outside the spotlight who interested her most . . .