Monday, July 10, 2017

The Child

By Fiona Barton
Berkley 2017
364 pages     Mystery

As you know, I am pretty much an uncritical reader when I am reading for pleasure, and I anticipated that The Child by Fiona Barton, which I began on the plane ride home from Iceland last week, would be that kind of book. It had been much touted in the book review world, and I got an advanced reader’s copy for a review. I pretty much accepted the premise and the plot—enjoying it every time I picked it up to read a bit—and it wasn’t until I closed the book for the final time that I paused and thought, “Well, so what!” Let me tell you a bit about the plot.

The bones of a newborn are discovered in a construction site. DNA testing confirms that it is an infant who has been dead for 40 years. So, why is it buried in a 30-year-old newspaper? Four women tell the story: Kate, a newspaper woman who seizes on the story; Emma who is following the story with great interest; Jude, her mother; and Angela, who it appears is the mother of the infant. Angela is sure that the infant is hers, but Emma insists that she is the mother.

Barton introduced Kate the investigative reporter in her first novel, The Widow. Kate is in her early 50s and is trying to maintain her career in the midst of enormous changes in the newspaper world. She works tenaciously to keep on top of the story and keep the editor happy. It is rather refreshing to have a woman news reporter serving as the case solver, and although intricate, the story is more personality driven than plot driven.  Kate has many pithy thoughts about the current state of journalism and she proves to be an appropriate witness to what most of us are thinking about newspapers and news reporters. Through persistence, Kate gains the trust of the three women individually, and because of that, she is able to solve the case. She believes that a reporter must get close to “tell the full story.” “Without empathy, without feeling someone’s pain, how could you tell a story.”

Journalist Maureen Corrigan, who reviewed the book for the Washington Post, believes that Kate did not maintain an appropriate balance as she tries to support the women and keep the news story going, even as the clues become more convoluted. Corrigan thinks that the character lost her professional balance. Frankly, Corrigan eviscerates the book. The Child is a middling and much-too-long suspense story that would have benefited from a ruthless red-pencil.” And while I admire Corrigan and her work, I believe that she is too hard on Barton. The Child was better than that, particularly in the characterization of Emma, whose whole life has been disoriented. I have known women like Emma. I also liked Kate’s tenacity and drive. I have known women like Kate as well.

Anyway, I finished The Child yesterday at the beach. It was a perfect beach day and a perfect beach read.

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