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Book Author: Fiona Barton

THE SUSPECT by Fiona Barton: Book Review

Some mysteries start slowly, building up the suspense in a gradual way, while others make your nerves stand on end right from the beginning.  The Suspect definitely falls into the second category.

Fiona Barton’s third novel in this London-based series features Post reporter Kate Waters and police inspector detective Bob Sparkes.  The book opens with a phone call from Jake, Kate’s son, who has been traveling in Thailand and whom she hasn’t heard from in seven months.  “Sorry I missed your birthday,” he says, before the call disconnects or he hangs up, Kate can’t be sure which.

Across London, Lesley and Mal O’Connor have been waiting for a call as well.  Their daughter Alexandra been traveling with a friend, but despite her promise to call or text every day it’s been a week since her parents have heard from her.  Now they’ve made the decision to call the police and declare Alex missing.

The Suspect is told in several voices–Kate’s, Bob’s, Lesley’s, and Alex’s. We hear from Alex, the third voice, when her plane touches down in Bangkok, and immediately things begin to go wrong for her and her traveling mate, Rosie.  Rosie had drunk too much on the flight, despite Alex’s comment that she’d become dehydrated, and the heat in the city doesn’t help.  Things get worse when they can’t find their hostel and end up at the Paradise Bar and Guesthouse, which is about as far from paradise as it is possible to get.

Alex was supposed to go to Thailand with her best friend Mags, but at the last minute Mags admitted that she didn’t have the money to go.  Rather than go alone, Alex decides to go with Rosie, another classmate, but one whom she barely knows.  And the little she does know about Rosie is telling her that this may not be a wise decision.  But now that the girls have made it to Thailand, it’s too late; besides, Alex doesn’t want to admit to her parents and her friends back home that the dream trip is turning into anything but.

In addition to worries about their out-of-touch children, there are other concerns in the lives of all the characters.  Kate is fearful of losing her position in the ever-shrinking newsroom at the Post; Rosie’s parents are divorced, and her mother’s concern about Rosie doesn’t seem to resonate with her ex-husband, making the situation even more painful for her; Bob’s beloved wife Ellen is dying of cancer.  This makes the novel all-the-more poignant, as it reflects real life, where many problems occur simultaneously, and the characters have to deal with them as well as with the central mystery.

I have praised Ms. Barton’s previous novels in this series, The Widow and The Child, on this blog; and The Suspect is equal to those outstanding mysteries.

You can read more about Fiona Barton at this website.

THE CHILD by Fiona Barton: Book Review

Who is the mother of the child whose corpse is found years after its burial?  There are four women in The Child, and each one has a story to tell.

The novel begins with Emma, a forty-something woman with a history of mental illness.  Married to a wonderful man and employed as an editor for celebrity memoirs, she constantly relives a past that threatens to overwhelm her.

Kate is a journalist at the Daily Post, a London newspaper, always looking for the next story.  A small piece from a competing paper catches her eye with its headline “Baby’s Body Found.”  She believes she has found the big scoop she is looking for in the piece about a baby’s skeleton unearthed while contractors were demolishing old houses.

Angela is getting ready for March 20th, the anniversary of the day her newborn daughter was taken from her room at the hospital, never to be seen again.  It’s been decades since the abduction, and she’s married with two other children, but of course she’s never forgotten the infant she’d had for less than twenty-four hours.

Jude is Emma’s mother, a single mother with her own emotional problems.  She and her daughter once had a close relationship, but that ended when Jude met Will and determined that he was more important to her than her own daughter.  After years of separation, the mother and daughter have reconciled, but their tenuous, tense relationship always leaves one or both unhappy or angry.

The book follows the paths of these four women over a period of a week.  The story of the Building Site Baby has grabbed Kate, and she gets permission from her reluctant editor to go to the run-down neighborhood where the corpse was found and try to interview any people still living there who had been residents at the time the baby was believed to have been buried.

The Child is Fiona Barton’s second mystery, and two of the characters appeared in The Widow as well, both in the same jobs they held in the earlier novel.  At a farewell function for a fellow journalist, Kate sees Bob Sparkes, a police detective she met while covering another story.  She tells him about her interest in the baby, and Bob is quickly drawn into the story because of his own interest in missing children.  Now, hoping for some assistance from the police, Kate is even more eager to find out the truth about the infant who has been buried for years.

Fiona Barton was a journalist in London for many years, and on her website she says that the ideas for both The Widow and The Child came from news stories she’d read.  In both novels she has taken the painful subjects of domestic abuse and child kidnapping and turned them into beautifully written, suspenseful thrillers with believable characters whose painful secrets and emotional problems will grip the reader from the first page.

You can read more about Fiona Barton at her website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton: Book Review

The Taylors’ marriage had warning signs from the beginning.  When seventeen-year-old Jean met the slightly older, more sophisticated Glen Taylor, she was swept away.  Eventually he won over her parents, and two years later Jean and Glen were married.

They were happy, as long as Glen got to make all the decisions.  He called it being protective, choosing the seat for her at a bar, deciding on her meals so she could taste new things, explaining to her that their kitchen wasn’t quite clean enough.  And Jean wanted to please him, to make things good between them, so she agreed with his decisions and their marriage went along smoothly.

Then things start to go wrong.  Glen is let go from his position at the bank.  He tells Jean he was terminated because the management was downsizing and that he is going to start his own business, but Jean finds a letter from the bank with the words “unprofessional behavior,” “inappropriate,” and “termination forthwith.”  It’s the beginning of serious trouble for the couple.

Dawn Elliot is a single mother to two-year-old Bella.  And one afternoon Bella disappears from their front yard.  “But I was just trying to get her tea ready,” Dawn tells Detective Bob Sparkes.  “She was out of sight for only a minute.”  But that’s all it took for the toddler to disappear.

All of England is looking for Bella, with telephone calls and CCTV coverage constantly updating the police.  Then a tip comes in from a delivery van driver who works for the company where Glen Taylor is temporarily employed.  That driver gives the police the name of the driver who was scheduled to work in the area near Bella’s home on the day she went missing; that driver in turn tells them that he didn’t do the last run of the day but passed it along to Glen.

The Widow covers a period of more than three years in three voices:  Jean Taylor, Glen’s wife; Kate Waters, a reporter at the Daily Post; and Detective Bob Sparkes.  The reader will be carried along by the story, understanding the events as they are seen by these three people.  Jean, who is happily married to Glen until the police come to their house and question him about Bella’s disappearance; Kate, sympathizing with Jean while at the same time doing everything in her power to obtain the exclusive story of the Taylors’ marriage for her paper; Bob, whose obsession with Bella’s case nearly undermines his career.

The novel is as real as today’s headlines.  Each of the above characters, along with many others in the book, has his/her own agenda, and finding out the truth about the kidnapping isn’t always uppermost in each person’s mind.

Fiona Barton has written a gripping mystery, filled with insights into the minds of those who buy child pornography and the slippery slope to which it may lead.  You won’t forget The Widow in a hurry.

You can read more about Fiona Barton at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.