Arriving just in time for summer, Fiona Barton’s The Child (Berkley, 365 pp., ***½ out of four stars) is a perfect blend of beach read and book club selection. It’s a fascinating and fitting follow-up to her best-selling debut novel, The Widow.
Barton’s idea for her second novel came from her experience as a journalist. As a reporter, Barton would save news clippings of stories that interested her. And so the inspiration for The Child: “A paragraph about an infant’s skeleton found in a garden was squirreled away by me many years ago. … I wanted to know who the baby was and why someone had secretly buried it.”
Barton never wrote that story, but she did turn it into a tense and tightly written tale that keeps the reader engaged and entertained.
At the center of The Child is journalist Kate Waters, a supporting character from The Widow. An old-school investigative reporter, Waters’ last big story was two years earlier with the resolution of the abduction and murder of Bella Elliott.
Now Kate is trying to survive in the ever-changing 24-hour cycle newsroom environment where click-bait on celebrities is favored over long-format investigative journalism, and layoffs always loom in the background.
When Kate comes across the headline “Baby’s Body Found,” she is intrigued. The barest of facts are given — the skeletal remains of a baby are found at a building site in the working-class neighborhood of Woolwich, in Southeast London. Waters can’t shake the story and starts investigating.
She is paired with a young reporter whose reporting experience is more online than real world. Kate takes him (and the reader) through the process of investigating a story that can’t be done through Web searches only.
During her investigation, Waters crosses paths with three disparate women: Emma, a 40-something book editor married with no children; her mother, Jude; and Angela, a 60-something homemaker and…