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The Child by Fiona Barton
Thriller

The Child

by Fiona Barton

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Quick take

"Because readers see the mystery through the eyes of Kate, a reporter, it’s easy to feel as though you are a part of the investigation, too."

The Child

From chapter one:

Emma Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My computer is winking at me knowingly when I sit down at my desk. I touch the keyboard, and a photo of Paul appears on my screen. It's the one I took of him in Rome on our honeymoon, eyes full of love across a table in the Campo dei Fiori. I try to smile back at him but as I lean in, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the screen and stop. I hate seeing myself without warning. Don't recognize myself sometimes. You think you know what you look like and there is this stranger looking at you. It can frighten me.

But today I study the stranger's face. The brown hair half pulled up on top of the head in a frantic work bun, naked skin, shadows and lines creeping towards the eyes like cracks in a pavement. "Christ, you look awful," I tell the woman on the screen. The movement of her mouth mesmerizes me and I make her speak some more.

"Come on, Emma, get some work done," she says. I smile palely at her and she smiles back.

"This is mad behavior," she tells me in my own voice, and I stop. Thank God Paul can't see me now, I think.

When Paul gets home tonight, he's tired and a bit grumpy after a day of "boneheaded" undergraduates and another row with his department head over the timetable.

Maybe it's an age thing, but it seems to really shake Paul to be challenged at work these days. I think he must be starting to doubt himself, see threats to his position everywhere. University departments are like prides of lions, really. Lots of males preening and screwing around and hanging on to their superiority by their dewclaws. I say all the right things and make him a gin and tonic.

When I move his briefcase off the sofa, I see he's brought home a copy of the Evening Standard. He must've picked it up on the tube.

I sit and read it while he showers away the cares of the day, and it's then I see the paragraph about the baby.

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Why I love it

Is there any explanation for why summer is the perfect season to indulge in what I—somewhat affectionately—like to call "murder books"? You know exactly what kind of book I’m talking about: that special brand of addictive thriller that features a female lead—maybe a journalist, maybe a detective, maybe just a woman with a troubled past—who finds herself knee-deep in some sort of mystery—maybe involving a murder, maybe involving a kidnapping, and almost certainly involving the aforementioned troubled past. I don’t know why I love to read them in the hazy, languid days of summer, but I do. Perhaps it’s because the long days and fevered air makes it feel as though nothing bad, and everything bad, can happen.

In The Child, Fiona Barton delivers an exquisite version of "murder book." The story once again follows Kate Waters, who you may recognize from Barton’s debut, The Widow. Kate is an intrepid, tenacious journalist who could be described as a British Olivia Benson, if Law & Order ever launched a spinoff in London. Fueled by equal parts ambition, curiosity, and genuine empathy for the victims, Waters digs into the strange case of a dead baby, whose skeleton was recently unearthed by construction workers in a gentrifying neighborhood of London. The baby has been dead for decades, but Kate is determined to discover who she is and how she died. But with no solid leads, Kate is forced to pose the following question to her newspaper’s readers: "Who Is The Building Site Baby?"

As Kate dives further into the case, she unearths some troubling truths—and realizes there’s more at play to this mystery than the bones of a child. What she discovers is a tragedy that could completely upend the lives of three different women: Angela, the mother of a daughter named Alice, who went missing hours after her birth and was never found; Emma, a mysterious, troubled freelance editor who could have information about the identity of the baby; and Jude, Emma’s mother.

Because readers see the mystery through the eyes of Kate, a reporter, it’s easy to feel as though you are a part of the investigation, too. I jotted down clues along the way—as Kate discovered them—and found that, by the end, I had figured it out. That doesn’t lessen the satisfaction of the reading experience, however. The Child proves that a good mystery is as much about the investigation as the resolution.

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Member ratings (3,321)

  • Michelle K.

    Union Grove, WI

    Well written page turner. Loved this book. ######################################################÷######################################################################################################

  • Rebecca M.

    Pendleton, IN

    After a slow start, this book really took off. Lots of characters that made me a bit confused at times. Had to keep guessing who the "building site baby" could be. Story really took off. Great ending!

  • Shannon M.

    Reno, NV

    This book. It broke my heart, then it repaired it. I was so close to figuring it out, on the edge, she did such a good job writing it, that it left you incapable of guessing until the very last page

  • Jeanne E.

    Southfield, MI

    Wow! A great read! A 40 yr old missing child mystery is solved, after many twists and turns, sleazy men, hidden teen pregnancy .... all uncovered by a tenacious female reporter pursuing "a big story".

  • Chelsea R.

    Antioch, CA

    I loved this book! I couldn't put it down, I just had to know who the Building Site Baby was. The style of writing is imaginative yet easy to follow, especially with so many characters and timelines.

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