Stand by your man…
😀 😀 🙂
When Glen Taylor becomes a suspect in a case of child abduction, his wife Jean stands by him, providing an alibi and declaring his innocence to the world. The police are still trying to get enough evidence to convict him when Glen is killed in an accident. Will Jean now reveal the truth? That’s what both journalist Kate Waters and investigating officer DI Bob Sparkes hope, and each has their own way of trying to persuade her.
The book starts off excellently as Jean is barricaded in her home by a howling press pack trying to get her side of the story. This first section is told in first person present tense from Jean’s perspective, and we quickly see that she’s a complicated woman – perhaps not as loyal to Glen on the inside as she seems to the world. In fact, her major emotion at Glen’s death appears to be relief. She gradually reveals their past together – her initial romantic love for this attractive man whom she almost feels is too good for her, then her gradual disillusionment over the many years of their marriage as he retreats to his own world, spending hours alone on his computer. She shows us Glen’s control over her, his ability to manipulate her, so that over time she finds herself distanced from friends and family, with the two of them living an isolated life.
The second perspective is Kate’s, the journalist, and the afterword tells us that this is Barton’s own background. Kate likes to think that she’s performing a public duty trying to get victims to tell their stories, but in her more clear-sighted moments or when she lets her guard down, she reveals her burning desire to beat the opposition, to get the story at whatever cost to the people involved. We also see Jean’s view of Kate, a much colder one, and it’s interesting to contrast the two perspectives. All of this is done skilfully, and frankly the relationship and sparring between these two would have made an excellent novel with plenty of psychological tension.
Unfortunately the book then descends into tedious domestic thriller territory, building up to a twist that I defy anyone not to spot coming before they get past the first third of the book. The police investigation is so bad it’s a joke, but with the added problem that it isn’t written that way – we are in fact supposed to take it seriously and admire the dogged but incompetent DI Sparkes, who provides the third perspective, and is the only man in the world who doesn’t spot many of the glaring errors and omissions in the investigation. The psychological astuteness with which the book begins is thrown out half-way through in order to allow for a long, long, long build-up to an undramatic climax.
Also, in the middle, Barton gets lost in her timeline and tenses, talking about Glen in the past tense at times when he is still alive, but going back to present tense after he’s dead, etc. If it hadn’t been for the dates given at the chapter headings I’d have been completely lost at points as to whether we were in the past or present. Sadly, Jean’s character starts shifting too – sometimes more intelligent and better educated than others, as if she is being written differently depending on the requirements of plot developments.
Sometimes one’s reaction to a book is as much to do with what else one has been reading, and this book suffered because I was reading it at the same time as Helen Dunmore’s wonderful Exposure. There were enough similarities in the story – wives standing by husbands accused of crimes, and shifting timelines – for comparisons to become unavoidable, and I fear they really highlighted the weaknesses in both plotting and storytelling in this one (and conversely made me appreciate Dunmore’s skill even more). As the story became less and less credible, I regretted that Barton hadn’t had the courage to realise her book would have been stronger had it been rather more restrained and avoided the clichéd thriller aspects.
However, Barton is clearly a talented writer and this was her début, as far as I’m aware. Hopefully its success will give her the space to steer clear of the domestic thriller bandwagon in her next outing and give us something with more of the depth this book promised in its early chapters. Despite my criticisms of this one, I look forward to seeing how she develops in the future.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.