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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review of THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton

3 Stars
This is the latest psychological thriller about which there is so much publicity.  I found it very readable, but as is usually the case with highly-hyped books, it doesn’t quite measure up.

The widow is Jean Taylor whose husband Glen died in an accident.  Glen was accused of kidnapping a child, Bella Elliott, who has never been found.  Now that he is dead, the police and press turn to Jean to find out what she knows.  Several questions arise:  Was Glen guilty of abducting Bella?  If so, was Jean ignorant of her husband’s activities or was she complicit with Glen?  Was Jean a victim or was she a victimizer?

Each chapter begins by identifying the perspective from which it is narrated:  The Widow, The Reporter, The Detective, etc.  The novel also moves back and forth in time between 2006 when Bella went missing and the investigation started and 2010 when Glen dies and the investigation continues.

Only Jean’s chapters are narrated in first person.  One of the first things we learn about her is that she is not a grieving widow:  “I was glad he was gone.  No more of his nonsense.”  That euphemism for Glen’s activities she uses frequently but really it serves to hide what she knows, so it soon becomes obvious that she is not a totally reliable narrator.  She even mentions that occasionally she has to “switch to being Jeanie for a while.”

In one way, the book is a study of a marriage.  We learn how Jean, a young, naïve hairdresser, is charmed by the older handsome bank worker.  Glen always takes charge and Jean becomes the submissive partner.  Of course issues arise.  Jean desperately wants children but she is unable to become pregnant.   Gradually Glen becomes more withdrawn and spends time on the computer.  When Glen is charged with Bella’s abduction, Jean remains the supportive wife.

For a book identified as a thriller, there is not a great deal of tension.  We know from the onset that Glen is dead and that Bella has not been found after four years, so there is little suspense concerning their fates.  Learning the truth about Jean’s role in the case is more an intellectual puzzle.  The reader does, however, experience other emotions:  anger, sympathy, frustration – often with the same character.  For instance, Jean’s situation may arouse sympathy but some of her decisions inspire anger.  The same is the case for Kate Waters, the persistent crime reporter; we may cheer her determination to get a story but we will cringe at her techniques to do so.   

This book will undoubtedly find its way into the hands of people during their summer vacation, and it is a good novel for such an occasion.  It doesn’t demand much effort from the reader and has sufficient interest in it to while away a few hours provided the reader has not set his/her heart on a suspenseful thriller.