August 01, 2017 at 12:50 PM EDT

The Child

publication date
Fiona Barton
We gave it a B

Not even a child but an infant: brittle little bones swaddled in crumbling newsprint and buried beneath an old urn in a knockdown London garden flat. The tiny corpse, too far gone to identify, merits only a few throwaway lines in the local papers. But three women immediately take notice: lost soul Emma, who recognizes the address, reluctantly; Kate, a canny journalist intrigued by the human-interest angle; and Angela, an elderly housewife still mourning the newborn who vanished from her cot in a busy maternity ward more than four decades before.

Barton‘s unsettling 2016 best-seller The Widow artfully toed the line between two high paradigms of British mystery: the cozy-crumpet kind, all village intrigue and old-timey secrets, and the Ripper-style savagery of much darker crimes. Her Child, released a scant 16 months later, does the same (and returns several characters, including Kate), though its impact is diminished some by conventional prose and plotting—an enigma that reads less like a true riddle than a slow-burn portrait of loss and survival wrapped, like that small body, in well-worn words. B

From EW’s review of The Widow (2016):

“In the past few years, it’s become almost impossible to publish a female-driven psychological thriller without invoking the name of a certain twisty literary phenomenon. (Apparently, the first rule of Gone Girl Club is: Never stop talking about Gone Girl.) But Barton’s debut, already a best-seller in her native U.K., might have more of a right to the comparison than most. Like Gillian Flynn’s 2012 blockbuster—and its closest successor, Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train—The Widow is both a taut reconstruction of a crime and a ruthless examination of marriage, told from the multiple viewpoints of not-always-reliable narrators.


Switching between various vantage points — The Reporter, The Detective, The Mother — and hopscotching across timelines, Barton skillfully loops her narrative noose. The big reveal, when it comes, isn’t exactly a lightning bolt; her payoffs are far less showy than Gone Girl’s dazzling, slippery tricks. Instead, The Widow is the kind of book you can zoom through on a long flight or a lazy Sunday: a smartly crafted, compulsively readable tale about the lies people tell each other, and themselves, when the truth is the last thing they really want to know.” B+

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