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Thewanderingjew

Thewanderingjew

Fast paced mystery without gratuitous sex and unnecessary violence! Hurray!

The Widow - Fiona Barton

 “The Widow is a fast paced, steadily moving mystery which held my attention so completely that I read it in one day. It has been compared to “Gone Girl”, among other mysteries, but I thought it was unique unto itself. The content of books like “Gone Girl” is sometimes almost too difficult to read in one sitting because of the tension they arouse in the reader with their brutal imagery. This book, created interest and excitement, without including graphic, violent descriptions of events or wanton sexual descriptions of crimes, which certainly could have been worked into the tale had the author decided to do so, because of the type of criminal activities featured. Instead, the content and rollout of the tale seemed to be of paramount importance to the author, which I appreciated and which raised my opinion of the book.
The characters were clearly defined with their particular types of attitudes and personalities. There was the arrogant reporter, Kate Waters, for whom the story was the prime goal, regardless of the consequences, the dedicated detective bob Sparkes, who couldn’t quit looking for the guilty party, the laissez-faire parent, Dawn Elliot, the sexual deviant, Glen Taylor,  who looks like the clean cut boy next door, and the sad, neurotic wannabe mother, Jean Taylor, unable to realize her dreams. The book certainly highlighted the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover or appearance, and by that I mean a person, not the book itself.
Jean Taylor is the widow featured in the story. She is a hairdresser with simple dreams and desires. She is a very sheltered, naïve teenager when she meets Glen Taylor and is swept off her feet by him. Young and impressionable, he was her knight in shining armor. He fulfilled her fantasies about married life, and filled her head with his dreams of grandeur, dreams he never fulfilled for himself. He organized and controlled her everyday life, and she thought that was the way a loving husband behaved. When they were unable to have a child, she was bereft, but Glen chose to put it behind them because, he said, “they had each other”, and weren’t they in love, wasn’t that enough? As a result, she hides her true feelings about her childlessness from him and mourns her emptiness in private.
Glen Taylor is a nice looking young man who works in a bank when Jeanie meets him.  He has dreams of a great successful future, but his personality gets in the way. He has difficulty dealing with authority, and he believes that he is the brightest bulb in the box. He does not make friends easily. He is obsessively neat and very private about his life. He prefers to spend time only with Jean. He loves her. She is very loyal and devoted to him and he takes very good care of her, in return. In fact, he tells her what to do, how to behave and keeps her fairly isolated. They have no social life.  If he disapproves of something she does, she always complies with his wishes. When he loses his job at the bank, he takes a temporary job as a delivery man, and she continues working as a hairdresser to make ends meet. Soon, the temporary job becomes more of a permanent endeavor. As his life veers off the path he has outlined for himself, he retreats into his office and conducts a private life on the internet which reveals a particularly nasty side of him to the reader, but not to his wife who was fairly illiterate when it comes to  technology. She believes he was just in his office taking care of some kind of “nonsense”.
After several disappointments in his career path and Jean’s overwhelming sadness about the inability to become a mother, Glen’s personality begins to change. He turns even more inward. When things seemed to get too tough, Jean retreats into her mind, into the person of her younger, gayer self, Jeanie, the girl still living at home with her parents, but Glen turns to something else entirely. He turns to the computer. He signs on to secret chat rooms and assumes another identity.
Dawn Ellliot is a single mom who has come around to the idea of motherhood slowly. Her only child, a daughter named Bella, was conceived during an affair with a married man who briefly occupied her life. Dawn is in the house doing some necessary housework for just a few moments before preparing a cup of tea for Bella. Suddenly, she realizes that she no longer hears her playing outside.  
Bella Elliot is two and a half years old. From all accounts, she is the sweetest little girl, always happy and cheerful. She is playing outside with a cat while her mother is folding some laundry and getting her a snack. One moment she is there, and the next, she is gone from the yard, and her mother is frantic. A massive search begins because Bella is nowhere to be found.
Kate Waters is the reporter who tracks down Jean Taylor and surprisingly is allowed into her life. Jean’s husband Glen had once been accused of pedophilia, accessing child porn sites, but he had insisted his computer had been hacked. Now he has been accused of another, more heinous crime. Glen has been accused of kidnapping Bella Elliot. He denies it, and the case against him is eventually dismissed in court. Still, in the court of public opinion, he is still judged as guilty. Kate wants to get the scoop of her life by convincing Jean to tell her the truth about her husband. She is good at getting information from people by ingratiating herself into their good graces. She could win an award for her performances when dealing with people to get information. Her code of ethics seems to be wanting a bit, but that is the nature of her job.
Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes is obsessed with this case which is going nowhere. He knows the longer the child remains missing, the greater the odds are that she is no longer alive. The investigation into the disappearance of Bella and the ultimate discovery of the kidnapper is at the core of the story.
The court case, complete with a snarky lawyer for the defense, is really gripping. The barrister was portrayed as a sharply critical questioner who was able to poke holes in the police case against Glen Taylor. Still, Detective Bob Sparkes remains interested in the case and refuses to give up until the case is solved.
Each chapter of the book has a title with a particular character’s perspective i.e., “The Reporter, The Widow, The Husband, The Mother, The Detective. As an organizational device, this worked especially well in the audiobook, narrated by Hannah Curtis and Nicholas Guy Smith, (although I also had a print ARC), since the narrative sometimes moved back and forth in time. Knowing the focus of the chapter in advance made it easier to follow the thread of the story, a story in which lies and secrets pervade each character’s life.  The reporter lies to get her story, the detectives lie to get their confessions, the husband lies to protect himself, the widow lies out of loyalty, the mother lies to avoid shame. Will the truth win out?