By Fiona Barton
Fiona Barton, formerly a newspaper woman, with among her stints time at the hugely popular Daily Mail, probably wondered how she could top her blockbuster The Widow. Don’t know if you’ll think this tops that real gripper, but most certainly you’ll agree The Child is its equal.
Briefly, during a gentrification project, workers turn up the corpse of an infant, baby Alice, or as she comes to be known, The Building Site Baby. Kate Waters, crack reporter for the Daily Post, decides to do a small piece on the grim discovery. That squib gets noticed by two different women: Angela, who believes it is her baby stolen from her at the maternity hospital as an infant; and Emma, who begins to worry that questions will be asked and people will discover the horrible thing she did.
Kate, with the help of cub sidekick Joe, does the initial leg work on the case, before the police become involved. It explodes into a major story involving a nearly three-decade-old child abduction case (Angela), a broken home and apparent lunacy (Emma), and a ring of pedophiles (dastardly landlord and college prof). You’ll think you’ve figured out the case in relatively short order, but don’t get ahead of yourself, buddy. Barton is truly skillful in laying on the twists and turns.
She also, from personal experience, knows how police investigations and investigative reporters work. Her most critical skill, as she teaches Joe, is making people comfortable with her, of encouraging them to treat her as their friend. Naturally, this exposes her to a large degree of emotional involvement with people and their lives. It’s this characteristic that provides The Child a powerful emotional punch, particularly at the end.
You’ll also find the novel interesting for Barton’s treatment of the transition of print media to online. Joe, the young whippersnapper he begins as, learns a lot from her, as do all of us readers.
If you are in the mood for truly gripping suspense, get a copy of Barton’s latest. And then wonder with the rest of us, and herself: How will she top it next time? w/c