The Child by Fiona Barton is a brand new novel of twisting psychological suspense from the author of the New York Times bestseller The Widow.
It’s always refreshing to see a woman in her 50s portrayed as wonderfully as Fiona Barton portrays journalist Kate Waters. Kate has a definite Mary Tyler Moore vibe going on, if you zipped her forward to 2012. When she catches wind of a baby’s skeleton that’s been found at a construction site, her ears perk up immediately:
Kate Waters loved a needle-in-a-haystack job. The glint of something in the dark. Something to absorb her totally. Something to sink her teeth into. Something to get her out of the office.
She’s determined to sink her teeth into a new story, a juicy one, and she squeezes everything she can out of the little bit of information she has.
The piece ran—down page, back of the book—the following Saturday. She’d managed to squeeze five hundred words out of the bare facts, ramping up Peter’s tearful testimony with some color from Howard Street and an anodyne quote from the police about “continuing inquiries.” She ended it with a haunting question to get the readers involved. The subeditor had pinched it to use as the headline: “Who Is the Building Site Baby?”
But she wasn’t happy with the story. A question as a headline was an admission of failure, as far as she was concerned. Meant you hadn’t nailed down the facts if you had to ask. She was sure there was more to get, but she needed the police forensics team to do their stuff to at least get a sniff of a follow-up.
And she knew she needed to look for other stories to keep her name in the paper so the Editor didn’t forget she existed.
But she couldn’t get the image of the baby, wrapped in paper as if it was rubbish, out of her head.
She wouldn’t let it go.
And she doesn’t. Soon, info comes to light that connects the remains with a rather famous missing infant case going back over 40 years. A baby named Alice Irving was taken from a hospital in 1970 and never found, and her mother Angela has never given up hope. But could this baby be Alice, found after all this time? Meanwhile, a young woman named Emma is hiding a secret of her own and is alarmed when she sees the news story about the remains. But what is she hiding?
Kate is hot on the case, and she keeps slogging despite juggling two young adult sons—one of which decides to drop out of college in his third year—a new round of layoffs at work, and a new, young reporter named Joe (who happens to be the son of a rival paper’s editor), who her editor wants Kate to take under her wing (and who readers will come to like). Then, there’s the persistent sexism at the office:
“Well, don’t sleep with him or Mandy will tear your head off.”
The crassness of his remark made Kate burn, but she laughed with him, a survival technique learned early on in a world dominated by men and drink.
“Just go along with it. You don’t have to mean it,” an older woman colleague had advised her many years ago. “The sexist jokes will never stop. You need to show them you’re as good a reporter as them. That’ll shut them up.”
And she is as good as them, for sure. In fact, as she digs deeper, she uncovers an insidious darkness that has affected more lives than she could have imagined.
If readers think they know where this one is going, they may be surprised. Barton keeps things moving with short chapters, relatable (and believable) characters, and some pretty sleazy baddies. She also does some pretty deft deep diving into mother/daughter relationships and how they can become something twisted and ugly. It makes for a suspenseful ride and leads up to something surprising—and genuinely poignant. I dare you to put this one down once you start.
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