Barton’s debut novel The Widow (February 2016) is a fantastic example of a smart psychological thriller. It contained all of my favorite things of this genre—narrators with questionable reliability, carefully crafted shifts in time, and slowly revealed secrets.
The opening scene features a confident, no-nonsense reporter name Kate Waters who arrives at Jean Taylor’s doorstep and welcomes herself inside to discuss the story—Jean’s husband, Glen, and his sketchy past association with the unsolved case of a missing two-year-old girl named Bella Elliot. My first impression of Jean was of a powerless, unconfident woman, pleased by the reporter’s forwardness—she takes comfort in having someone boss her around. This is our first glimpse into who Glen was and the structure of their marriage.
Chapters are divided by point-of-view. The main voices we hear from are the widow, the reporter, and the detective (Inspector Bob Sparkes). Bella’s mother, Dawn, and the man accused of kidnapping and killing this little girl are also heard.
One of the things I loved most about this novel is the intricate play on narrators. Who is reliable? When the person known as Jean is separately called Jeanie, it was easy to begin to question the identity of the true character. As we learned more about the behind-the-scenes actions of the detective and reporter, I began to question their reliability as narrators as well. I love this uncertainty across all the voices.
The Widow is truly a compelling read. Chapters flip between 2006, the year Bella went missing, and 2010, the year Glen died. The shifts in time are really well done and quite engaging to read. The author certainly made a good choice in organizing the two story lines this way. Just when I was ready to flip to the other time period, a new chapter would take me there. When these alternating times come together, a riveting ending plays out.
I highly recommend The Widow to readers who enjoy thrillers filled with tension, drama, and secrets. I look forward to reading Barton’s next release.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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