What I’m Reading: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow

Fiona Barton

Berkeley Publishing Group

February 2016

DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-galley from Berkeley Publishing (via Net Galley) in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 
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I was invited to participate in a blog book tour for the February 2016 release of The Widow by Fiona Barton. Here’s my review for this stop on the tour.

The Widow, by Fiona Barton, is a pretty interesting read. Set in the United Kingdom, it follows Jean Taylor, the recent widow of accused child kidnapper (and possible murderer) Glen Taylor. The story opens as Jean is still reeling from the sudden death of her husband after being hit by a bus. Glen had never been formally charged with the kidnapping of Bella Elliott, though he’d been questioned heavily after her disappearance. The interference of the police alienated the Taylors, particularly Jean, from their neighbors and forced them to rely on each other even more for support and camaraderie. The police, as well as reporters, had always suspected that Jean knew more about Bella’s disappearance than she said. With Glen’s death, Jean was free from any obligations that she may have had to her husband while he was alive. And Jean decided to start talking.

Barton did a very good job of building suspense throughout the novel. What I especially liked was the eventual humanization of Jean’s character. At first, she came across as somewhat of an caricatured automaton, a mousy wife who was completely controlled by her psychologically abusive husband. As the book progresses, we see the layers of Jean, alluded to by the character herself as “Jean” versus “Jeanie”. These hidden facets belied a keen cleverness and mastery of subtle manipulation, and I as a reader became hooked by Jean’s character as each layer was revealed.

Barton did another good job in the character of Kate Waters, the ambitious reporter who eventually scores a coveted interview with Jean. This was another case of a cookie-cutter character who becomes more than meets the eye. No apologies are made for Kate’s ambition or methodology, and there is no moral undertone to her success in the vein of “everything has a price.” Still, the character manages to garner sympathy as she manages to outwit her competition to garner an interview with perhaps the most famous widow in recent times, and strain her relationships with those who helped her get to Jean.

Unfortunately for Barton, she did rely on clichés with her male characters, particularly Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes. Sparkes became the quintessential over-obsessed law enforcement official who pursues a case to the detriment of his personal and professional lives. Sparkes’s boss, was the superior who wanted to make the headlines, even at the cost of those who worked under him. Likewise, Glen Taylor becomes just another garden-variety pedophile and narcissist; his behavior and personality are textbook, and leave little to the imagination. Perhaps this is because Barton wanted the women in the book–Jean, Kate, and Bella’s mother Dawn Elliott–to be the focus of the story. Indeed, the entire story is very female-centric and a statement on how women are actually the complicated creatures we are often made out to be, and are usually not how we appear to be.

The ending of the book was a bit anticlimactic, which marred an otherwise gripping story. There was also an issue with changing points of view near the end of the book, especially with Detective Zara Salmond. Her POV seemed abrupt and out of place, and Barton would have been better served sticking to those of the primary characters in the story–Jean, Kate, and Sparkes–and relegating Salmond to the background with the other characters.

Others have compared The Widow to the novel The Girl On the Train, which is a bit of a disservice since I found the latter to be underwhelming and not deserving of the hype surrounding it.   The Widow is much better, and a psychological thriller worth trying.

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What I’m Reading: The Alchemists of Kush

alchemists of kush minister faust originalAlchemists of Kush cover

 

Critically acclaimed author Minister Faust returns with his fourth novel, The Alchemists of Kush.  Set in both modern-day Edmonton and ancient Sudan, this speculative fiction novel follows the path of two boys who must harness ancient knowledge in order to combat a great evil.

Raphael “Rap” Deng Garang was just your average seventeen year-old war refugee hanging on the streets of Edmonton, Canada. Half-Sudanese and half-Somali, he had one foot in both worlds but truly belonged in neither, especially in the close-knit Somali community in which he lived with his mother. A joy ride in a stolen car with a good friend led Rap down a path of self-knowledge that transformed him into Supreme Raptor, the “conscious rap” sensation.

Hru was a child soldier in ancient Sudan, helping the other children of his village survive when raiders destroyed their village. Forced to rely on rudimentary fighting  skills, Hru and the other child soliders manage to eke out an existence in the forest until they arrived at the ocean, in which the Great Devourer of Souls resided. Hru becomes the sole survivor of an attack by the Devourer, which leads him on a quest to find his mother and claim a birthright he didn’t know he had—as Horus, the son of Osiris.

Faust does a riveting job in alternating between modern-day Canada and ancient Sudan by way of Kush; the book is divided into four parts, and each part has two divisions: The Book of Then (which takes place in ancient times) and the Book of Now (which takes place in modern-day Edmonton.  The title of each of the four parts is key to the occurrences in that particular part, and takes on a greater sense of importance as the story progresses. As readers follow Rap’s path from an errant teenage refugee  to a young community leader, they are treated to a parallel course in history in the guise of the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris. Indeed, the final portion of the book is the text of the Book of the Golden Falcon, which is the seminal text from which Rap and his cohorts are taught to elevate and expand themselves. The Alchemists of Kush is heavy on allegory, and readers would do well to take this into account while delving into this novel.  Faust has managed to make history cool, and the Book of the Golden Falcon gives a lesson not commonly found in neither public nor private educational institutions in any country. The underlying message of the novel is one of self-improvement, self-sufficiency, and elevating others to their best selves; while this message is imprinted upon the teenagers in the novel, it can be applied by all ages. Even better, you can read all of the Books of Then or the Books of Now in order, for a different yet equally entertaining reading experience which puts an entirely different spin on the novel.  Fans of Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Charles Saunders would enjoy The Alchemists of Kush.

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