Jean Taylor's life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she'd ever wanted; her Prince Charming. But then everything changed.
The newspapers found a new name for Glen: MONSTER, they shrieked. Jean was married to a man accused of the unimaginable. And as the years ticked by, with no sign of the little girl he had been accused of taking, their life was constantly splashed across the front pages.
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.
The Widow by Fiona Barton is published by Transworld on 14 January 2016 and is the author's debut novel.
The past few years has seen a glut of 'domestic noir' stories, the majority have been written by female authors, most of the covers are black, and nearly all of them are described as psychological thrillers, or chillers and compared to previous best-sellers of a similar ilk.
The Widow fits into the above categories. This book has been the subject of much debate at online book groups that I am part of, I've tried to avoid reading any reviews of it, but am aware that people either love it or hate it.
Me? I loved it.
The Widow is a multi-layered story, told from different perspectives, over a lengthy period of time. The reader is introduced to Jean Taylor just after the accidental death of her husband Glen. Glen's death has thrust Jean back into the glare of the media, with reporters constantly knocking at her door. Everyone wants to hear Jean's story, but it is reporter Kate who gets the scoop.
Fiona Barton slides her story effortlessly back to the time when Jean and her husband Glen were just an ordinary couple. Glen had a good job in banking, Jean styled hair in the local salon. Glen was in charge, Jean was happy to let him be. Their life slowly unravelled though, beginning on the day that Glen lost his job at the bank.
When a small child; Bella Knight is snatched from her front garden in broad daylight, the media have a field day. Such a shocking thing to happen, everyone is talking about it, everyone is angry, everyone hopes that Bella is found quickly. When the police come knocking on the Taylor's door, life for Jean changes overnight.
The police investigation is long and intricate and painful. The police make mistakes; clues are missed, leads are not followed up. Glen and Jean become prisoners in their own home, scrutinised by everyone, their personal matters and secrets fully revealed for everyone to have an opinion about.
All of us will have seen a Jean Taylor over time, the dutiful wife or girlfriend who stands by her man. Unquestioning and loyal, they usually stand a couple of steps behind the accused, with a fixed smile and a determined stance. Most of us will have wondered about these women. We will have said that surely they knew? Why on earth are they staying with that monster? Were they involved?
Fiona Barton has taken this often overlooked character in any criminal case and made her the centre of this involved plot. Jean is weak yet manipulative, she's clever, yet gullible, she's a complex character who I never really understood. Her relationship with every other character, including husband Glen appear to be superficial and one-sided, yet she is the absolute heart of the story.
I was particularly intrigued by the insight into the world of journalism and the journalists that will do almost anything to get a story. The author's experience within this world shines through in her writing.
So, this book has been described as 'the ultimate psychological thriller' and whilst I agree that the psychological insights are chilling, I'm not sure that I'd describe it as a thriller in the usual sense of the word. I found the indepth analysis of the human psyche fascinating; the humanity of the the police officer in charge, and the other side of the journalist who is often labelled as scum. I thought the workings of Jean's brain were chilling and cleverly portrayed. The thrill, for me, comes in the intricacy of the dissection of the minds of the characters, and not really with the plot, although I had no idea who took Bella until right until the final reveal.
The Widow is a chilling peep into a suburban household. The story gripped me from the beginning despite the almost stifling, unnerving and harrowing storyline.
Fiona Barton trains and works with journalists all over the world. Previously, she was a senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at the Mail on Sunday, where she won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards.
The Widow is her first novel.
Born in Cambridge, she currently lives in south-west France.
For more information about Fiona Barton, check out her website www.fionabartonauthor.com
Follow her on Twitter @figbarton