Fiona Barton has masterfully delivered again with “The Child,” her follow-up to her bestselling debut novel, “The Widow.”
Barton returns to her familiar neighborhoods of London with veteran journalist Kate Waters, who turns her attention to a new story about a very old crime. So many questions, so much perfect suspense.
A worker clearing a construction site has discovered what turns out to be the skeleton of a newborn baby. The police start an investigation.
When Kate comes across the news, she is immediately drawn in. This is her milieu.
Never miss a local story.
Of course, once she gets it in her head, she can’t get it out. She makes a call to her friends at Scotland Yard. When told it’s a needle-in-a-haystack job, she’s hooked.
Just as Kate starts her own investigation, she’s given a wet-behind-the-ears new hire to “show the ropes.” She’s struggling enough with the changes to the news business that’s now all about online hits and lickety-split content. It’s hard to keep up.
Kate is certain that this Building Site Baby and its story will remind her editor, and his bosses, what journalism really is. She just has to get the real story — and tell it the way only she can.
Kate and her newbie sidekick, Joe, soon find themselves digging into the lives of the people from the neighborhood, working-class folks who might have played a part in the baby’s short life.
With lots of old-school investigative work, they eventually find two women who could be the mother.
One of them, Angela, left her newborn alone for only a few minutes, long enough for her daughter to disappear from her maternity-ward bed. The investigation went cold decades ago. Baby kidnapped, parents left devastated.
Angela is convinced that the Building Site Baby is her Alice. She is desperate to know the truth and trusts Kate to lead the way.
The other possible mother, Emma, is a troubled young woman. She is introduced as an unstable introvert who seems to be hiding a crippling secret. She has a strained relationship with her mother, has married a man old enough to be her father and can’t seem to cope with even the simplest things.
Emma used to live in the neighborhood where the baby was found. Terrible memories of her past have her dying to talk to someone about it.
Meanwhile, Kate, so ethical and empathetic, has her own issues to contend with.
She is facing pushback from her husband as their oldest son abandons university, hoping to find himself. She is proceeding with caution in the newsroom, as several of her contemporaries are being let go and her editor is plagued by the bean-counters to produce online gold.
Kate’s favorite Scotland Yard contact, DI Bob Sparkes from “The Widow,” helps her get inside info and sets her up with the new guard DI Andy Sinclair.
She has the best of intentions and her determination is admirable.
Barton keeps Kate on her toes and toggles between her story and the other mothers’ tales.
It’s easy to see that Barton spent time in Kate’s shoes when she was an award-winning journalist. Ultimately, Barton tells the child’s story as only she can — brilliantly.
☆☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
- By Fiona Barton
- Berkley, $26