Review: The Widow

Fiona Barton’s The Widow has been touted as the next Girl on the Train, following the rise in ‘domestic noir’ or female thrillers that have become popular in recent years, with the rise of Gone Girl.

Barton’s debut is an entertaining tale about the widow of a man accused of the abduction of a young child, the police hunt to prove this and a reporter’s attempt to get the story on it. While most thrillers follow the usual murder mystery format, beginning with a body and working back over, the body we begin with this time is that of Glen, the accused. Barton’s storytelling is intelligent, and she is clearly aware of how to hook the reader, I was as desperate as the detective and the reporter to find out the true story.

The switching narrative points of view stimulate this curiosity, with stories from ‘The Widow’, ‘The Detective’ and ‘The Journalist’ at different points in the investigation, giving the reader a patchwork knowledge of the case which keeps us looking for more. It also helps to reveal information slowly and even keep us second guessing. However, by the time we hit the end it is less revelation than relief and confirmation of our suspicions. In this sense perhaps we could say the novel is more realistic for reflecting what is likely a true experience of detectives in many investigations.

For all that however, The Widow fails to live up to the legacy of Gone Girl. Despite its dark subject matter, the writing doesn’t feel nearly as dark as Flynn’s novel, and the narrative is far less dramatic. Jean, the widow, is intriguing but less captivating than Amy. Put simply, the style of Barton’s novel is less literary than that of Flynn’s which does place it at a disadvantage. This novel is unlikely to have its film rights snapped up the way Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have and it is clear to see why; the plot feels more akin to a BBC or ITV crime drama series than to a huge blockbuster film.

However, for all this it is unfair to compare the book to its predecessors and, particularly for a debut novel, it is a good read. The character’s are irritating and entirely unsympathetic but we still want to read their story which is testament to Barton’s character creation. A very easy and engaging read, I was almost finished the novel after several hours on the train. It is more of a psychological suspense novel than an outright thriller, but as this it is certainly entertaining.

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