By Fiona Barton
Former British newspaper reporter and editor Fiona Barton’s debut thriller will have you turning pages as fast as you can on your way to an ending that will stun you with emotion. Part psychological thriller and part police procedural, it derives its power to involve you emotionally by putting you into the mind of wife Jean Taylor married to often distant and always controlling Glen who becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance of a little girl, Bella. Suspense arises from speculating about what Jean knows, why she remains married to Glen, and what she will reveal at the end of the novel.
Barton has cleverly structured the tale as part first-person account and third-person narration. The cleverness comes in focusing our attention on Jean by having her relate her part of the story directly to us. What pulls us along are her feelings about her marriage, her husband Glen personally, and above all, her disappointment in not being able to have a child due to her husband’s low sperm count. She never lets on she knows about Glen’s porn addiction, let alone his obsession with children, and you find yourself wondering how she, or any wife, couldn’t know what’s up with her husband.
When little Bella disappears one day, snatched from her front yard in broad daylight, veteran detective Bob Sparkes catches the case. Following Sparkes as he investigates introduces readers to a vast, sleazy network of pedophiles and the deep net where they prowl and exchange photos and hunt victims. As the case ages, it eats away at Sparkes because he’s convinced that Glen Taylor took Bella and that Jean knows something. His obsession and hunger for proof he can take to court leads him into dangerous legal territory that blemishes his reputation as a copper, but not for reasons that might be creeping into your mind at the moment.
Almost from the beginning, it’s no mystery Glen took Bella. What readers will not know is how, why, and what he did with her. Bob Sparkes wants to know everything. Kate Waters, reporter for the Daily Post (a job Barton knows very well as she once worked at the Daily Mail) also wants to know everything, as well, to scoop her competitor papers and television stations. To accomplish this, she brings everything she’s learned as a reporter to bear ingratiating herself to Jean in an effort to get her to open up and spill the secrets Kate’s sure she’s keeping. If you’ve ever read the British tabloids, then you have a good idea of what transpires in order to get exclusive and blockbuster copy.
And what of Bella’s mother, Dawn, an unmarried mother on welfare? At first she seems a model single mother doing her best to raise her little girl under trying circumstances. But what she becomes after Bella’s abduction might recolor a reader’s perception of her, and this doesn’t include how she capitalizes on the girl’s disappearance. What she did, though, when Bella was a baby, well that’s something many readers may find quite questionable and not a little bit contributory.
Written and paced well, it’s a perfect novel for those who like their thriller/suspense reads thoughtful and rich in character. If this describes you, you won’t be disappointed. w/c