Book review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Monday 4th January 2016

Fiona BartonIf The Girl on the Train was last year’s stand-out title then The Widow could well be this year’s mega-success.

A taut psychological thriller, it’s written by journalist Fiona Barton. A former senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, she garnered multiple scoops and was hugely admired by her peers (me included).

For the last few years, however, she’s trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists across the world. Now based in France, she’s written her first novel.

The Widow was well worth waiting for. During her news reporter days Fiona interviewed hundreds, probably thousands, of people but says that the ones who stayed with her were “those on the periphery, the bit players in the drama.”

In common with many news reporters she covered a host of notorious trials and often found herself “watching the wife of the man in the dock and wondering what she really knew, or allowed herself to know.”

That’s the starting point of The Widow, the story of Jean Taylor, an ordinary, suburban hairdresser whose husband Glen is accused of committing a terrible crime. The question on everyone’s lips is: Is Glen Taylor a loving husband or is he a heartless killer? Not only that, does Jean herself know the truth?

The Widow is relayed from multiple standpoints. Jean’s story is told in the first person and dominates the book but we also see the perspectives of reporter Kate Waters, of the dead child’s mother, of the detective investigating the crime and of Glen himself. I was most riveted by Kate Waters, largely because, unlike most novels, this journalist is truly authentic. From asking to use the loo at Jean’s neat-as-a-pin house so she can take a quick look round the place to trying to buy up Jean’s exclusive story, Kate is utterly convincing.

The Widow was the subject of a hotly contested UK publishing auction, has been optioned for TV and will be published in 28 countries this month (January 14 in the UK). I’m not in the least surprised at the attention it’s getting. It’s a gripping, unsettling, fast-paced read that’s bound to be a bestseller.

The Widow by Fiona Barton (Bantam Press, £12.99)

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