One of the things that I didn’t realize when I was working on my review of The Widow by Fiona Barton was that it was the first in the Kate Waters trilogy. Since I liked Kate very much, it made me want to read the next book in the series, which has the most generic title in recent book history – The Child. Despite its bland and somewhat misleading title, I enjoyed this one more than The Widow because of its greater emphasis on Kate Waters and how gripping it was.
In The Child, a paragraph in a newspaper article reveals that the bones of a baby were found in the grounds of a house being demolished. Sensing an interesting story, Kate Waters gets on the case to find out who it was. As she digs deeper, she finds out that a baby was stolen from a maternity ward at a local hospital decades ago. There is more to the story, as she discovers the pasts of the people who lived in the area where the baby was found. She then finds herself as the keeper of unexpected secrets that disrupt the lives of three women – Emma, a book editor who was pregnant at age 15; Jude, her mom; and Angela, the mother of the missing child.
The reason that I didn’t recognize that The Widow was the first in the trilogy was that Kate Waters felt like an overemphasized side character. Since it is her series, it makes sense to put her front and center, and The Child does that effectively. Kate Waters is a wonderful protagonist as she is active in what she wants while displaying empathy for her interviewees. In fact, I felt that Kate is more humanized in this one than in the last. I’m not saying that she was a one-dimensional character; I’m only saying that she is given more situations to display her compassionate side in this one. For example, when Emma reveals her secret to Kate, she sits and listens. Afterwards, Kate drives Emma home knowing what a night she has had.
While the book mostly focuses on Kate, I found the new characters – Emma, Jude, and Angela – to be just as compelling. At age 15, Emma gave birth to a baby and later buried it in her backyard. She spends a good chunk of the novel feeling guilty for what she had done and thinking if that was revealed, she would go to jail. Jude – her mother – is a woman, who wants to do things her way, including having a child so she could keep her man. When that does not work out, she starts dating Will – a professor that she knew when they were students at the same university. Jude loves Will so much that she is willing to kick Emma out of the house to retain him. Angela never forgot her missing baby even when she had other children. Her feelings for the lost child are so strong that it even affects the family dynamic. All of these characters are fleshed out, thus making their stories far more fascinating.
Much like The Widow, The Child follows a similar structure. For starters, both plots involve a child who has disappeared. In fact, my initial thought was that the latter was a continuation of the former since that one ends with a buried child. However, both are fairly standalone pieces. Second, one male main character in both novels is a horrible person, and they are both voiced by Steve West (I will get to that soon). Granted, they are terrible in different ways, but awful, nonetheless. And, they are given one chapter to explain their side. Third, both stories contain the multiple-narrator structure for different reasons. In The Widow, it becomes very clear that Jean Taylor is not reliable, hence the perspectives from characters like Kate and Detective Bob Sparkes. On the other hand, in The Child, that structure is used to create a bigger picture of the events that led to the baby being buried, and how it affected the main characters. Finally, both have endings that many readers (including me) predicted early on. However, the difference with that one is that even though I figured out who the child was a third of the way in, The Child contains some red herrings, which made me doubt my initial conviction at times. It is a nice improvement over The Widow.
As alluded to earlier, I listened to the audiobook, which was compelling and contained fairly good performances from its narrators. Mandy Williams, who voiced Kate in The Widow, is back, and she performs with determination and empathy. She has a tendency to read very slowly, which annoyed some listeners, but I didn’t have much of a problem. Steve West is also back, but this time, he voices Will – Jude’s on-again off-again boyfriend. His performance is just as eerie as when he narrated as Glen Taylor, but as Will, he delivers his lines with such suave that I see how the character was seen as a charmer. Now, let’s move on to the newcomers! Rosalyn Landor – English actress and audiobook narrator, who has made guest appearances in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Matlock, plays Emma. At first, I thought Landor was miscast because she sounds older than Emma (even older than Jude), who is supposed to be 42, but then I realized that Cate Blanchett has a deep voice too. After imagining Emma as Blanchett, Landor’s performance made all the more sense, especially during the scenes, in which she tells her secret to Kate. Jean Gilpin – an actress who is known for voicing characters from video games like James Bond 007: Nightfire, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Halo 5: Guardians – takes on the role of Jude. She does a good job in voicing an older character, who is self-entitled and wants things done her way. Actress and audiobook narrator Katherine McEwan voices Angela. She too does a credible job on taking on what Angela has felt ever since her child disappeared. However, I could not imagine Angela as a 60-year-old woman because I felt that McEwan sounded too young for the role.
While The Child by Fiona Barton is similar in style to its predecessor, it is a slight improvement. Having Kate as the protagonist creates a drive in the story, which mainly existed in flashbacks in The Widow. It also helps that the new characters are fleshed out and interesting in their own ways. I would recommend this one to anybody who has read The Widow and likes stories about missing people. While it may not have the exciting twists and turns like The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl, The Child is a very good follow up.
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