The Child
PublisherBantam Press
Date Published29 June 2017
Price£ 12.99

The Child

by Fiona Barton

The discovery of a baby’s skeleton on a building site reveals a decades old tragedy which means different things to three women.


Fiona Barton drew on her own journalistic experience to create the character of Kate Walters, the 40-something reporter protagonist of her debut The Widow. And now Kate’s back, a little older, a little more worried about keeping her job in an industry contracting under pressure from new media, a little more impatient with her children and long-suffering husband, but still full of intelligence, persistence and heart – and still determined to bring in the big story to keep her top of the uncertain pyramid.

The author is somewhat after my time in Fleet Street, but anyone who rose to be news editor of the Daily Telegraph and chief reporter of the Mail on Sunday, let alone being named Reporter of the Year, deserves respect.

As you would imagine, she writes brilliantly. Her involvement with high-profile criminal cases, her fascination with the body language and verbal habits of interviewees, particularly those on the periphery of the main story, shines through in this clever, emotional, sometimes dark and tragic, often moving, but always compelling standalone.

The bones of a new-born infant are discovered on a south London building site. It’s worth a couple of paragraphs in the evening paper. But for three women it means so much more. For one it’s a reminder of the worst day of her life – when her own baby daughter vanished from a hospital ward, an event which has dominated her ever since. For another it raises the chilling possibility that a secret she has battled to keep for decades will be uncovered.

The story is alternately related by the three main characters. Angela despairs of finding closure for her devastating loss. Freelance editor Emma is a bone-weary, tormented soul, with a major anxiety problem and a difficult childhood secret to hide. For Kate, what starts as an exercise in digging out a story – why was the little skeleton buried there, who is it and how long had it lain undiscovered – turns into a near crusade as she meets and becomes deeply involved with the protagonists.

Emma’s long-estranged mother, to whom she has recently reconciled in a still strained relationship, also features and each of these characters share their stories and histories.

The going is slow as Barton builds the suspense. It takes a long time for the complicated, rather unremarkable and easily solved plot to unwind, but that is not the point of this beautiful story. Despite a predictable, but still ingenious, ending and what at times feels a plethora of filler prose, this is as good an examination of the female psyche under pressure as you are ever likely to come across.

Reviewed 05 August 2017 by John Cleal