Even one of my most favorite writers, Susan Hill, nearly lost me with her novel The Soul of Discretion, because of its frank portrayal of sexual crimes against children. I continued to read it and ultimately thought it was a very strong entry in her series, but still find myself resistant to the subject matter, most especially, as it happens, when it is written to be consumed as entertainment.
Had I picked up even the tiniest idea that Fiona Barton's forthcoming novel The Widow dealt with a missing-and-presumed-dead child, I'm not sure I would have added it to my stack. All the jacket cover on the ARC told me was this:
When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on when more bad things began to happen...But that woman's husband died last week. And Jean doesn't have to be her anymore.
There were references to her husband's terrible crime, but nary a mention that it involved a child. I am always curious, when a person is convicted of a heinous crime, about how a spouse who lived with them (usually a wife) could have done so without a clue. And, if they had had a clue, what living with that must have felt like. Or what would that moment of discovery feel like if the first inkling that there was something off was the moment a spouse was put in handcuffs?
So, that's why I decided to read this one, but even after Barton revealed what the crime had been, her writing carried me along. Her use of multiple voices (The Widow, The Detective, The Reporter) was effective at putting the crime to stage left and focused instead on the aftermath. She also tells the story in jumbled chronological order, which I found to be less effective.
Barton succeeds at making The Widow a fascinating character study of a woman who finds herself trapped in a space between the person she truly is and the one into which she has allowed herself to be molded by others.
I can easily recommend this one (as does the blurb on the ARC jacket) to fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins' Girl on a Train.
Publication date: March 1, 2016
Published by New American Library