If you thought the female-led psychological thriller was a trend of 2015, you couldn’t be more wrong. 2016 promises to be another fantastic year for women in fiction, with Fiona Barton’s The Widow kicking off proceedings. The novel is inspired by many of the women Barton has observed throughout her career in journalism – particularly the wives of men who are accused of terrible crimes.
Set in suburban England, The Widow is the story of 2-year-old Bella Elliott’s disappearance in 2006. She’s snatched from her front garden while her mum Dawn briefly leaves her alone to cook dinner. Predictably, a media storm ensues and the concerned public want to help find Bella. There are several similarities to Madeleine McCann’s heavily publicised disappearance in 2007, including fruitless police searches and public criticism of Dawn’s ‘neglectful’ parenting.
The plot throws us backwards and forwards in time, alternating between 2006 and 2010. Glen Taylor, a delivery driver who was near Bella’s home when she vanished, eventually becomes the key suspect. However, forensic analysis and repeat interviews don’t link him to the crime. Despite being found not guilty, Glen still has the press camping on the doorstep and hateful media campaigns led against him. DI Bob Sparkes never gives up on the case, and he realises he may not have paid close enough attention to Glen’s wife, Jean.Glen’s sudden death in 2010 leaves Jean free to reveal the truth about what happened. The ordeal leaves her friendless and jobless, yet she publicly defends Glen’s innocence and makes excuses for his disturbing online activities. In private, she’s clearly keeping a secret, but is she keeping quiet about Glen or hiding a secret of her own? Just because Jean can speak about the truth, doesn’t necessarily mean she will.
Jean is an enigma, only giving the tiniest of hints that she knows something about Bella. The events unfold slowly and readers will have to hang on to Jean’s every word because we’re fed such small snippets of information. When we learn more about Jean, we have to ask ourselves if she honestly didn’t know who she was married to, or if she chose not to face the facts.
Fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and C.L. Taylor will enjoy the tense unraveling of the mystery, the troubling protagonist and Barton’s subtle style. The excitement doesn’t end when you finish the book either, as The Widow will be adapted for television. Definitely something to look forward to.
The Widow is published in hardback by Bantam Press on 14 January 2016.