The Child follows up on Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, which I had written about last year. I am an aficionado of the mystery/thriller genre and I had found The Widow a very good book in that genre. It was not spectacular by any means – far from contemporary hits like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, let alone classics such as Agatha Christie’s many books – but it was a well written, entertaining, and gripping read. Barton’s new book, The Child, is in the same genre, and while it is as well written as The Widow, I would have to say that its entertainment and gripping quotient was a notch lower.
The mystery in The Child is that of a dead newborn baby, whose remains are discovered when some buildings are demolished in a London neighborhood and the construction site is being dug up for a new development. While the exact year of death cannot be determined from the remains as they have been buried for many years, the fact that they are wrapped up in a specific kind of plastic bag provides some clues on a possible time frame. A DNA test reveals a match with a woman, Angela, whose newborn baby mysteriously disappeared shortly after it was born from the maternity ward of the hospital she was in. While Angela has two other children who are now grown up and have kids of their own, she has never gotten over the disappearance of Alice, the name they had given the baby. The discovery of the remains on the building site gets her hopes up so she can know once and for all what happened to her baby and get some closure, even though it means definitively knowing that Alice is dead.
Just when everyone was certain the dead baby was Alice, a wrench is thrown into the mystery when further testing shows that the remains had been buried on the site at least ten years, if not more, after the date that Alice disappeared. So it is still Alice? If so, were the remains hidden somewhere else for over a decade and then buried at the building site? Is that even possible? And if, does that make any sense? Or is this another baby? But no other baby was reported missing in that time. And what about the DNA match?
This is the central mystery in The Child, and while Angela is one of the main characters in the book, there is also Kate, the intrepid reporter who is fascinated by the case and keeps digging into it, and Emma, another woman who happened to live at the housing development at the time when the remains were buried. Emma has a deeply disturbed past and secrets of her own, and for some reason, the story of the baby’s remains becomes one she gets obsessed with.
The mystery is, of course, resolved at the end of the book, and just as in The Widow, in a satisfying, entirely believable way, without any “curve ball” type of plot twists. While there is sufficient intrigue in the story to make The Child as much of a page-turner as The Widow, it wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down — I read it over the course of a week rather than a day — and in that respect, I would have to say that it was not as gripping as Barton’s first book.
Author: Fiona Barton
Publication Date: June 2017
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.