Contrary to what you would expect this book to be from its title – a tragedy or at least a drama – The Widow is actually a crime thriller. And a really good one at that – I couldn’t put it down until I had got to the end, to the “bottom of the mystery,” as they would say in our much-beloved Five Find-Outers mystery series by Enid Blyton that we grew up with in India.
Set in England, The Widow is a debut novel by Fiona Barton, who, I wasn’t surprised to learn, is a journalist, given the fluency and quality of the writing. The “widow” in the story is Jean, whose husband has just died in an accident. But there’s an entire back story to their marriage that gradually unfolds in the course of the book. Her husband, Glen, turns out to be a pedophile who may have abducted a two year girl, Bella, from her house. It takes a lot of digging and investigation to hone in on Glen as the probable suspect. The detective in charge of the case is convinced that he is the man. But there is no conclusive proof, and even though Glen is charged and brought to trial, there is not enough evidence to convict him. In the meantime, Jean is obsessed with kids but for a different reason — Glen is infertile so she cannot have kids of her own. Did Glen kidnap Bella? And if so, was Jean complicit in the kidnapping? Did she want Bella to be her child? And was Glen’s death really accidental or did Jean actually cause it? We don’t really get to know the answers to these questions until the end of the book.
The book’s structure adds to the drama. The story unfold over a span of four years, starting from the time of Bella’s kidnapping to a few weeks after Glen’s death. Not only does it keep alternating between different times instead of being chronological – a fairly common literary device adopted in novels these days – it is also narrated from the points of view of a few key people: Jean, the widow; Bob, the detective who becomes very emotionally invested in the case; Dawn, Bella’s mother, who is single and has a few skeletons in the closet of her own; and finally, Kate, a reporter who is the only one able to get through to Jean, past the media circus plaguing her life for four years since Bella disappeared.
Most crime thrillers have almost an obligatory surprise twist towards the end — they lead you down a certain path almost intentionally and then knock you off the sails with a big reveal. And in the most successful books of this genre like Gone Girl, their sheer brilliance make you forget and forgive the fact that they practically cheated into believing something that wasn’t true. The Widow is not like that. There are no surprise plot twists thrown in like a curve ball; yet, it still has a very satisfying conclusion in which you are assured that justice has been done. It’s far from being the next Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, but I found it a very well written, engrossing, and page turning thriller.
Author: Fiona Barton
Publication Date: February 2016
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.