Bantam Press | 2017 (29 June) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
When the remains of a young baby, long buried, are found in the demolished ruins of a London suburb street, more lives than one are thrown into turmoil. For some the skeleton brings hope, for others there’s nothing but guilt, while for journalist Kate Waters it’s a powerful human interest story that deserves to be told.
Only hours after Angela Irving gave birth to her daughter, little Alice was stolen from her hospital cot. Over forty years have passed since then but many still remember the event. Everybody wants the remains of this little baby to be Alice, Angela and Kate more than ever. At last there would be a resolution to a terrible crime and mystery – and to Angela’s constant agonising grief. Who wouldn’t want to read about that? But it isn’t going to be that simple. Another woman, Emma, is consumed by the news of the discovery at the building site. She, too, is in need of finding peace. Both Angela and Emma hope that Kate, in tandem with the police, will find the answers they desperately seek.
I loved The Widow, Fiona Barton’s 2016 debut novel, and I was delighted to learn that Kate Waters – and Bob Sparks, her police contact – would return in The Child, and it is so good to see them again. Once more, Kate finds herself at the centre of a mystery with the power to grip her readers but her ambition is here kept in check by her determination that Angela and Emma will receive the answers they need. Kate’s own investigations move the police case along and, except for some blips, she works closely with Bob and Andy – she is most definitely on first-name terms now with these dedicated police officers.
A lot has changed since the first novel. While there is less Bob Sparkes than before, Kate is now depicted much more sympathetically. For the first time I was aware of her older age and now we learn more about her home life. I liked Kate much more in this novel than in The Widow. This is largely because she’s a more rounded individual now, but it’s also because of her commitment to Angela and Emma. Kate always has her eye on the case but I sensed that here the women come first. But I also warmed to Kate for her role as mentor to young novice reporter, Joe. I love how this relationship develops. It also adds a splash of humour when it’s needed.
The stories of Angela and Emma are engrossing to say the least and Fiona Barton tells them with enormous compassion and care. I felt for these two women so much and became completely wrapped up in their lives, relationships and torment. The novel moves between Kate, Angela and Emma and this works brilliantly. Slowly the lives of these three women connect but so too do the lives of their partners, children, parents, friends.
As you’d expect from a mystery based around the discovery of a baby’s skeleton, The Child tells a tragic tale and the infant is as central to the novel as its title suggests. But it is also an enthralling read, driven on by a thoroughly satisfying story and some wonderful characters. It’s not often I shed a tear when I read a crime novel but I did with this one, and it came from an unexpected place – from Joe, the novice reporter. There are lots of little touches in Fiona Barton’s delicious writing that really add to the mood of the read. As a result, I gobbled it up. Kate has grown in my eyes with The Child and I can’t wait to meet her again.