...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 ... In The Child, the suspense comes immediately. The book’s short chapters and multi-narrative device propel readers forward. Drawn back and forth between each character’s back story and their present situation, one is constantly figuring out what role each plays in the discovery of the child. And as soon as you think you've figured out who did what, it changes. Then changes again. In addition to being a page-turning whodunit, The Child is also a subtle exploration of the relationships between mothers and their children, their bonds and battles.
Barton moves the story along with the same alacrity she used for The Widow, a method that works particularly well for this slightly quieter book ... The Child isn't a book about journalism — any more than The Girl on the Train is a book about alcoholism, or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a book about being an orphan. Like her fellow novelists, Fiona Barton knows showing is better than telling because it allows for the reader's perspective. When the stories from Angela and Emma converge, whether the conclusion occasions a shock or an 'aha!' doesn't matter; it's satisfying due to all the work that's gone into its discovery.
The best moments in The Child occur when readers tag along with Kate as she works on identifying the long dead infant by talking her way into pubs and flats and combing through old archives. All the while, she’s also teaching her wide-eyed hipster intern the classic techniques of golden age investigative journalism. Enjoyable as those scenes are, however, the rest of The Child should have been sent to the publishing equivalent of Kate’s rewrite desk. The Child is a middling and much-too-long suspense story that would have benefited from a ruthless red-pencil ... Figuring out how all these women are connected — to each other and to the unidentified infant — is the hypothetical draw of this kind of fragmented, multi-perspective type of storytelling. I say 'hypothetical draw,' because The Child is more tedious than tense.
Barton‘s unsettling 2016 best-seller The Widow artfully toed the line between two high paradigms of British mystery: the cozy-crumpet kind, all village intrigue and old-timey secrets, and the Ripper-style savagery of much darker crimes. Her Child, released a scant 16 months later, does the same (and returns several characters, including Kate), though its impact is diminished some by conventional prose and plotting—an enigma that reads less like a true riddle than a slow-burn portrait of loss and survival wrapped, like that small body, in well-worn words.
Barton flirts with melodrama at times but pulls back and allows her characters to develop into fully realized, deeply scarred women whose wounds aren’t always visible. This is as much a why-dunit as a whodunit, with the real question being whether it’s possible to heal and live with the truth after hiding behind a lie for so long.