Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: The Child

By Jami Deise

Last year, I reviewed Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, about the wife of a dead man who had been suspected in the disappearance of a child. The novel was received with great fanfare, but I thought it had some flaws. Still, I ended the review with: "Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed The Widow, and I’m hoping this book is the first in a string of many by Fiona Barton. There’s nothing more enjoyable for a reader than watching a writer grow and mature with each book, and I am confident Barton will follow that path."

I’m happy to report that while some authors hit a sophomore slump with their follow-up books, Barton hits a home run with The Child, which also revolves around a missing tot. When the skeleton of a baby is unearthed during a home demolition in the London suburb of Woolwich, reporter Kate Waters sees it as an opportunity to regain some of the luster she earned reporting on Jean Taylor in Barton’s previous book. When the news hits the press, Angela wonders if the skeleton could be her daughter Alice, kidnapped out of her bassinet in the hospital the day she was born. The news also shakes up Emma, who grew up in Woolwich and has been struggling with mental illness since her teenage years.

Like The Widow, Kate is the heart of the book, but unlike The Widow, in The Child, Kate actually has a heart. In my review of The Widow, I wrote about Kate: "But I got no sense of who Kate was as a person beyond her reporter role. I’m not even sure whether she had a family."

Barton remedies this nicely, by giving Kate a family and concerns about a college-age son, but nothing so distracting that they divert the focus from the mystery. The Widow had paired her with detective Bob Sparkes, a well-rounded, sympathetic man who doesn’t receive point-of-view treatment in this book. Now Kate is paired with Joe, fresh out of college and learning to be a reporter. Kate’s issues with dealing with the click-bait obsession taking over journalism, as well as being saddled with Joe, also help round out her character. And she remains an excellent reporter, someone who quickly earns trust from her subjects, who end up happily sharing their burdens and secrets with her. If Kate hadn’t become a reporter, she would have made a great psychologist. And although she wasn’t thrilled to be saddled with Joe, she ends up being a great teacher for him as well.

But she is a reporter, and like the best ones, she recognizes when a story is more like an iceberg, promising so much more underneath the surface. And although what unfolds is predictable to those of us who gobble up female-driven suspense like potato chips, Barton still engages readers with mesmerizing characters. Emma and Angela are just as compelling as Kate, and even though Barton continues her Widow habit of adding POVs, this time she does not give away the game.

The Widow takes place in 2012, with references to the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics. When I finished the book, I realized that by placing it in the not-too-distant past and generalizing other details, she subtly obscures a major clue that would have helped readers figure out the final twist. It wasn’t until I was near the end when I realized where the book was leading – and even then I fingered the wrong person.

Two books in, Barton continues the theme that all it takes for an evil man to flourish is for a woman to defend him over the people he hurts. Her Kate is well-positioned to take on the role of a crusader, never doubting the voices of women who’ve been victimized. Last year I looked forward to more books by Barton. This year, my fingers are crossed that Kate Waters is the star of a lengthy series.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review. Enter to win a copy from Confessions of a Bookaholic!


Janine said...

Great review

Dianna said...

I didn't like The Widow, but I might give this one a try!