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Thursday, March 03, 2016

Hyped-Up Debut Leaves Me Seriously Underwhelmed

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her banker husband is hit and killed by a bus, Jean Taylor's first reaction is relief.  She's unmoored, as Glen has always told her what to do and say, but she's far from devastated by his death.  Ever since he was accused of involvement in the disappearance of a 2-year-old girl, Glen—and by extension, Jean—has been living under a cloud of suspicion.  Even though the widow has always stood by her man, their life together has been tense and difficult.

With Glen Taylor out of the picture, the local media knows it's the perfect time to get the real story out of his vulnerable wife.  Jean has always refused to talk to journalists, but somehow, Kate Waters manages to get in her door.  With her gentle approach, the reporter is an expert at softening up her subjects before moving in for the kill.  Jean, however, proves tough to crack.  Although she eventually agrees to sell her story to Kate's newspaper, the widow is not exactly forthcoming about Glen, their marriage, and the disappearance of little Bella Elliott.  

As Kate digs into Jean's psyche, Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes—the cop who's still haunted by his inability to find Bella—does his own investigating.  The questions that have always plagued the case haven't changed much.  Did Glen Taylor kidnap the little girl?  What about Bella's single mom?  Does she know more than she's saying?  Was it, in fact, her who did something to the toddler?  What role, if any, did Jean Taylor play in the crime and its possible cover-up?  Both Bob and Kate are convinced the widow knows more than she's saying.  But how can they pry loose the truth from a surprisingly obstinate Jean?

Told from several different perspectives, the story bounces between the past and the present to slowly reveal the truth about what really happened to Bella Elliott.  While doing so, it asks the terrifying question:  How well can we ever know another person?  

The Widow, a debut novel by journalist Fiona Barton, has received lots of buzz, including comparisons to recent bestselling psychological thrillers Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  Are those examples apt?  Not really.  While The Widow has similar themes, it lacks the depth, complexity, and wow factor of the aforementioned books.  For a suspense novel, it's just not that suspenseful.  The characters are almost wholly unlikable, the plot is too predictable, and the ending feels anticlimatic.  Although the premise behind The Widow seems promising, the execution doesn't do it justice.  Barton's prose is skilled enough, but the rest of her debut left me seriously underwhelmed.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, and disturbing subject matter (child pornography, child endangerment, emotional abuse, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Widow from the generous folks at Berkley/NAL (an imprint of Penguin Random House.  Thank you!


  1. Hmmm...yours is not the first review I've read that mentioned some of the same things. I'm kind of not rushing to read this. I probably will at some point, but there are so many, many books out there that I'm more excited about. :-)

    Did you get to the next Penny book yet? Inquiring minds want to know....

  2. I might have tried this one but not crazy about the content. Too bad it didn't live up to your expectations.

  3. I can honestly say I'm sick of the comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train for books. They mostly never live up to that. I was looking forward to this one but sound like I can hold off especially of the ending isn't great. Great review!

  4. Well, now I just don't know. I didn't like Gobe Girl or Girl on the Train. I found them underwhelming. So maybe I'd like this one...or maybe it's even worse than those ones. Eeesh!


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