The Widow by Fiona Barton

Stand by your man…

😀 😀 🙂

the widow bartonWhen 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.

Fiona Barton Photo by Jenny Lewis
Fiona Barton
Photo by Jenny Lewis

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.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 2Book 2

TBR Thursday 85…

Episode 85…

And for the third week in a row, the TBR is stuck on 165. It’s not so much that books are being added this time, though, as that my reading has begun to drop off as it always does when the summer tennis season begins to build up. Somehow my mind just doesn’t seem to be on books…
Rafa Nadal Doha

Erm…what was I saying? Oh, yes – books! Well, here are some of the ones that are getting close to the top of the heap…

Factual

douglas macarthurI know nothing about Douglas MacArthur and generally speaking wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in a biography of a US general. But this one is written by the fabulous Arthur Herman, whose previous books on philosophy, the Scottish Enlightenment and Gandhi and Churchill I have loved, so if anyone can interest me in MacArthur, I bet Herman can! Courtesy of NetGalley…

The Blurb says: Douglas MacArthur was arguably the last American public figure to be worshipped unreservedly as a national hero, the last military figure to conjure up the romantic stirrings once evoked by George Armstrong Custer and Robert E. Lee. But he was also one of America’s most divisive figures, a man whose entire career was steeped in controversy. Was he an avatar or an anachronism, a brilliant strategist or a vainglorious mountebank? Drawing on a wealth of new sources, Arthur Herman delivers a powerhouse biography that peels back the layers of myth—both good and bad—and exposes the marrow of the man beneath.

* * * * *

Fiction

exposureCourtesy of NetGalley. I’ve seen several very positive reviews of this around the blogosphere, plus I have to admit I love the cover a lot!

The Blurb says: London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets. When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested. His wife, Lily, suspects that his imprisonment is part of a cover-up, and that more powerful men than Simon will do anything to prevent their own downfall. She knows that she too is in danger, and must fight to protect her children. But what she does not realise is that Simon has hidden vital truths about his past, and may be found guilty of another crime that carries with it an even greater penalty.

* * * * *

Crime

daisy in chainsFabulous title, fabulous cover, fabulous Sharon Bolton! Fabulous! Strange blurb though… Courtesy of NetGalley again. I love NetGalley…

The Blurb says: Famous killers have fan clubs.

Locked up for the rest of his life for the abduction and murder of three young women, Hamish Wolfe gets countless adoring letters every day. He’s handsome, charismatic and very persuasive. His admirers are convinced he’s innocent, and that he’s the man of their dreams.

Who would join such a club?

Maggie Rose is different. Reclusive and enigmatic; a successful lawyer and bestselling true-crime writer, she only takes on cases that she can win.

Hamish wants her as his lawyer, he wants her to change his fate. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of a man like this. But maybe not this time . . .

Would you?

* * * * *

the widow bartonThis one is Cleo’s fault – it was her review that sent me scuttling off to… you’ve guessed it… NetGalley! Honestly, I reckon it’s a conspiracy, don’t you? And I think it’s becoming clear who is the chief suspect…

The Blurb says: We’ve all seen him: the man – the monster – staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him?

Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

TBR Thursday 73 – The People’s Choice…

The People’s Choice 9…

 

The TBR has gone up again!! How did that happen?! I’ve been so good, too! 162. But in my defence I did spend most of the last two weeks nocturnally watching tennis (end result, two Scottish champions and one Scottish defeated finalist – woohoo!!!) so reading took a bit of a back seat. Oddly, I seem to have been able to fit in adding more books to the pile, though…

Scottish Hall of Fame

 

Gordon Reid - winner of the Mens Wheelchair Singles
Gordon Reid – winner of the Mens Wheelchair Singles
Jamie Murray, winner of the Mens Doubles, with his partner Bruno Soares
Jamie Murray, (right), winner of the Mens Doubles, with his partner Bruno Soares
Andy Murray, defeated finalist, with winner, Novak Djokovic. (Whoever cleaned that tray really needs to have an eye-test...)
Andy Murray, defeated finalist, with winner, Novak Djokovic. (Whoever cleaned that tray really needs to have an eye-test…)

Anyway… it’s been ages since we last had a People’s Choice vote, but after your success with Snowblind, I feel it’s time for another look at some of the great reviews around the blogosphere, and for you to help me choose which one of these books deserves to be added to my TBR.  As always, an extremely difficult choice, I think…

So which one will you vote for? Which of these tantalising books deserves a place? The winner will be announced next Thursday…

With my usual grateful thanks to all the reviewers who’ve intrigued and inspired me over the last few weeks, here are:

The Contenders…

 

the secret riverThe Blurb – The Secret River is the story of Grenville’s ancestors, who wrested a new life from the alien terrain of Australia and its native people. William Thornhill, a Thames bargeman, is deported to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia in 1806. The Secret River is the tale of Thornhill’s deep love for his small corner of the new world, and his slow realization that if he wants to settle there, he must ally himself with the most despicable of the white settlers, and to keep his family safe, he must permit terrifying cruelty to come to innocent people.

Rose says: “Kate Grenville certainly doesn’t shy away from putting the settlers in the wrong, clearly showing the terrible ways the Aboriginal people were treated. This is very unusual in Australian fiction, as in a lot of it the reader wouldn’t even realise that anyone else even lived in Australia when the English arrived. I grew up less than a kilometre from a beach called Massacre Bay, and until I was an adult, did not learn that this name was given because (allegedly),  the Aboriginal men living in the area had been driven off the cliffs near this beach, while the women and children had been drowned in a nearby swamp…. To be an Aboriginal person when I was growing up was even worse than having a convict in the family.

The story of The Secret River is sad and depressing, but also fascinating because somehow, from all of the horror and violence during those early times, that is where the Australia that we have now came from.

See the full review at Rose Reads Novels

Another review of this book also caught my eye…

TJ says: “It really struck me how similar the settlement of Australia was to the settlement of America when looking only at the interaction between settlers and natives. I don’t know why that has never occurred to me. Ignoring the fact that one group left voluntarily and the other group was forced to leave, the mindset of all colonists was more or less the same: They considered themselves superior to the native population, completely missing the fact that they could learn from a different way of life. (At the very least, it would have made their own survival a little easier.) And sadly, in both cases, the settlers wreaked havoc among the native population.”

See the full review at My Book Strings

*******

in the shadow of the glacierThe Blurb – Trouble is brewing in the small, bucolic mountain town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. An American who came to Trafalgar as a Vietnam War draft dodger has left land and money to the town. But there’s a catch. The money must be used to build a garden to honor draft dodgers. This bequest has torn the close-knit, peaceful town apart. Then the body of a leading garden opponent is found in an alley, dead from a single blow to the head. Constable Molly Smith is assigned to assist veteran Detective Sergeant John Winters in the investigation.

Kay’s review is actually of a later book in the series. She says: I have loved this series and loved revisiting the characters, the small town charm, and the gorgeous  setting.  Molly is an interesting character and her life is filled with good friends, an eccentric mother, and co-workers that have all kinds of issues, both good and bad.  The cold case mystery is always a favorite of mine and I was caught up in the investigation of the missing man and also loved the personal aspects of these characters.  This author does a good job of giving us a mystery to solve and friends to hang out with.  The best parts of reading a series.”

See the full review at Kay’s Reading Life

*******

a month in the countryThe Blurb – In J. L. Carr’s deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

Margaret says: “I loved this quiet novel, in which not a lot happens and yet so much happens as Tom describes the events of that summer – his relationships with the local people as well as with Moon and Arthur and Alice Keach…I loved the detail of the wall-painting – the original methods of painting, the colours, the people in the painting… But above all it is the writing that I loved the most – words that took me back in time to that glorious summer in Oxgodby.”

See the full review at BooksPlease

*******

the widowThe Blurb – The Widow is the story of two outcasts and their fatal encounter. One is the widow herself, Tati. Still young, she’s never had an easy time of it, but she’s not the kind to complain. Tati lives with her father-in-law on the family farm, putting up with his sexual attentions, working her fingers to the bone, improving the property and knowing all the time that her late husband’s sister is scheming to kick her out and take the house back. The other is a killer. Just out of prison and in search of a new life, Jean meets up with Tati, who hires him as a handyman and then takes him to bed. Things are looking up, at least until Jean falls hard for the girl next door.

JacquiWine says: “…circumstances and events conspire to force a dramatic denouement. This is a first-rate slice of noir from Simenon, just as dark and disturbing as its cover suggests. The style is spare yet very effective with the author carefully modulating the tension as the story unfolds. There is a palpable sense of foreboding from a fairly early stage in the narrative and if anything this feeling only grows as we move closer to the final chapters.”

See the full review at JacquiWine’s Journal

*******

a heart so whiteThe Blurb – A Heart so White begins as, in the middle of a family lunch, Teresa, just married, goes to the bathroom, unbuttons her blouse and shoots herself in the heart. What made her kill herself immediately after her honeymoon? Years later, this mystery fascinates the young newlywed Juan, whose father was married to Teresa before he married Juan’s mother. As Juan edges closer to the truth, he begins to question his own relationships, and whether he really wants to know what happened. Haunting and unsettling, A Heart So White is a breathtaking portrayal of two generations, two marriages, the relentless power of the past and the terrible price of knowledge.

MarinaSofia says: In theory, he is everything that writing craft workshops warn us against; he breaks all the rules and gets away with it. He moves from a personal point of view to a generalisation or something abstract within the same sentence, separated by nothing but a fragile comma. His characters are slippery and unknowable, enigmas to themselves and others. He has sentences that run on into whole paragraphs, half a page or more. He often repeats himself (or his characters do). And yet, somehow it all works (thanks also, no doubt, to Jull Costa’s outstanding translation). He is compulsively readable…”

See the full review at findingtimetowrite

*******

NB All blurbs and covers are taken from Goodreads.

As usual I love the sound of all of these so…over to you! Choose just one or as many as you like – the book with most votes will be this week’s winner and added to my TBR…

.

Hope you pick a good one! 😉