2016 is turning out to be such an exciting year for debut novels. After Look at Me, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep and Shtum (review to follow), The Widow is yet another stellar piece of writing that lucky readers get to enjoy early on this year. I was fortunate enough to receive a proof of this thrilling debut a little while before the general public, so my review could go live on publication day to celebrate what I'm sure will be another triumph for Transworld in the psychological thriller space after The Girl on the Train and Disclaimer.
Commonly in crime or thriller novels, the reader unravels the murder mystery at its core through the perspective of the police inspector or the accused, yet The Widow has a fresh approach as the reader becomes acquainted with the terrible origin to the investigation, through (as the title might give away) the widow of the accused kidnapper – and perhaps even killer – of a two-year-old girl.
Jean's husband has died, he fell in front of a bus and that was that. Suddenly she's all by herself, but rather than the terrible accusations that have been shrouding over their household dying with Glen, the journalists once more come out of the woodworks and camp outside of Jean's house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman who has been lingering silently on the edge of one of the biggest kidnapping cases of the last few years.
With Glen by her side, Jean never spoke to the reporters but with him gone she suddenly finds one of them sitting in her kitchen, convincing Jean to share her account of the last few years and how Glen's overbearing character impacted on her small life. But as the widow's story unravels through flashbacks and her conversations with the reporter, it becomes clear that their relationship isn't as black and white as the reporter imagined it to be. Uncovering a big secret in the widow's life, the tables are suddenly turned and the reporter starts to wonder whether the fragile women standing by the side of the charismatic husband has been playing everyone all along.
While I don't read many psychological thrillers, I can appreciate a good story that doesn't only play with the minds of the characters involved but that of the reader as well. All throughout The Widow I was in awe at how incredibly clever the plot was put together to keep me on the edge of my seat from the very first page to the last. Several times I went from being fully convinced that Glen had indeed done the terrible things he'd been accused of to believing he was innocent, and similarly with Jean where at some points in the story I believed she was as naive as the press had initially made her out to be, at other times I was certain that she was the most cunning one of them all and she'd been behind the whole things from the start. It was very, very clever and made this such a hugely gripping novel.
Not only that, but author Fiona Barton's own experience as a journalist shone through in the detailed and realistic depictions of the impact of the case on everyone involved; from the titular widow and the journalist who finally gets to the bottom of it all, right down to the detective inspector who even years after the case has been closed can't let go of the unresolved mystery of the little girl that nearly cost him his job. Rather than reading a fictional case, at times it felt like I was privy to the intimate details of a real-life trial; the troubled characters and hugely compelling story felt that genuine.
The Widow is the epitome of a tense read; filled with unexpected revelations and the occasional red herring, it was impossible to predict where it would go next, creating a hugely interesting and immensely gripping novel that will undoubtedly keep many readers up at night, all desperate to for once learn the story of the quiet woman in the background of a big trial, rather than that of the the man in the spotlight.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Widow is published on 14 January 2016 by Transworld and you can buy the novel from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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