Ok, I confess, I requested this book at the last minute because I was saw it reviewed by so many brilliant bloggers I just could not resist anymore! So once again the NetGalley book ban was breached and once again I found myself reading late into the night just to squeeze in one more chapter of just one more book this month! But it was not difficult to squeeze in that extra chapter or even that extra 360 pages of The Child because, as I knew it would be, Barton's novel is gripping and full of twists and turns that mean you really don't want to put it down.
I have read The Widow and enjoyed the fact that although it is definitely a crime novel and a psychological thriller, it felt like Barton had chosen a slightly different angle from which to tell the story. I felt the same again with this book.
"Baby's Body Found."
Barton reintroduces us to Kate Waters, a journalist who is always looking to uncover the truth behind a story, often taking a passing news story that may be in danger of slipping under the radar and then brings it to the forefront of the news - or more importantly, to the forefront of the lives of the people it affects. Kate is interested in 'human life' stories. Well, she's sure found one here.
"Baby's Body Found."
Only two sentences follow the headline but two sentences from which Kate is going to unearth deeply buried complicated secrets involving several women. I love that Kate tears out the story for later.
"The bottom of her bag was lined with crumpled scraps of newspaper....... shreds of paper waiting for life to be breathed into them. .......Who is the baby? How did it die? Who would bury a baby?"
We learn that a baby's skeleton has been discovered on a building site and the police are investigating. When Emma Simmonds sees this headline in the Evening Standard, it chills her. She continues to tell us, as we watch her loving, supportive, understanding husband make her dinner and show that he understands the anxieties from which she suffers daily, that there is something else, something more, that he is totally unaware of, playing on her mind.
"What's yours is mine. But my sins...... well, they're my own."
So by the end of the first two chapters the reader is hooked. A baby's skeleton is discovered and a character is chilled by the headline. Another character is intrigued by what might have happened and already set on course to find out the truth. And the reader is intrigued, already wondering what is the connection between the bones and the woman, and what how successful with the journalist be in finding out anything from only two vague sentences.
There are plenty more dots to join though and more women to hear from. Barton uses four narrative voices in this novel and at first this worried me a little, but it's very easy to keep track of. All four voices are clearly signposted and all are well developed into characters that reflect different attitudes to love, parenting, marriage. Each of the women is connected with the baby's skeleton but Barton is going to make the reader work a little before she is willing to reveal exactly how the story lines will converge in the dramatic denouement.
The writing is very good. Emma particularly is a very complicated, emotional character who has a lot to confront, a lot to hide, a lot to figure out.
"People say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger........But it doesn't. It breaks your bones, leaving everything splintered and held together with grubby bandages and yellowing sticky tape."
Emma has held on to her secret for so long she is set to lose too much by confiding in her husband or going forward to the police. Barton has taken a line from a newspaper report and shown how deep the story behind that one line might run. This novel is as much an exploration of characters coming to terms with the past and what it means to carry a secret for so long as it is a mystery about who the baby's bones belong to.
Kate's chapters don't always provide us with the break we might seek from some of the more traumatic passages that come from Emma and Angela - the mother whose baby was stolen from her in hospital when it hours old. But Kate's interaction with her colleagues remind us of police procedures, the methodical and less emotional way she has to process the information she has access to and also perhaps creates a wider context in which to consider the events in the story. I think 'forgotten cases' and historical crime is always a great way to add layers to a crime thriller and always raises the tension and the stakes further so the suspense and need to read on is doubled. And besides that, I enjoyed Kate's trip to the Reference Library which dwells in the "bowels of the newspaper, troglodyte survivors of the Google revolution"!
Kate is a strong character and the reader feels in safe hands with her as she takes more control of the investigation and the novel. She has no intention of exploiting Angela's pain or trauma. She has no interest in sensationalising events in order to get that bestselling, eye-catching headline. She wants to get close to the story but she never loses sight of the fact that there are real people involved who have real pain.
"[College lecturers] bang on about objectivity and balance but she'd like them to sit down with a rape victim or the mother of an abused child and remain unaffected. Without empathy, without feeling someone's pain, how could you tell a story like that and capture the truth of a situation?"
Barton worked as a journalist for many years and this has not only ensured that the details about journalism and researching news stories are correct and accurate but also that Kate is a convincing, authentic and highly believable character. I like that Kate is so emotionally respectful and that the relationships with the women she approaches for information become more than that to her as the truth begins to reveal itself.
The Child is a good novel. I didn't work out the twists, I hadn't worked out how the stories were all interlinked and I didn't really want to as I was enjoying the character development and plot structure. I enjoyed how well Barton wove everything together and how satisfying it was at the end - if not slightly traumatic and slightly tear jerking.
This novel is as successful and well written as The Widow and is sure to propel Barton back on to the bestsellers list!
For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk