REVIEW: THE CHILD, BY FIONA BARTON

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

My Thoughts: Slowly the three women who are central to the story in The Child are revealed to us in bits and pieces. We do not know what, if anything, connects them. But they are all struck by the news of the infant. A baby that has been buried on the site for a number of years. The story takes us from the present to the past through alternating narrators, who show us moments in their lives and offer up thoughts, feelings, and clues to their histories.

Emma Massingham Simmonds is struggling every day, her mind a mess of anxieties, dark thoughts, and nightmares. Her husband Paul takes care of her, and she works at home as a book editor. But her conflicted relationship with her mother Jude seems to be at the heart of her emotional angst, and she has dark secrets that come to her in nightmares.

Angela Irving is still heartbroken over her lost infant Alice. Her husband and other children have given up on her constant grief. But she hangs onto her hope. Something about the buried baby calls to her.

Jude, Emma’s mother, seems worried about what might be discovered about that baby, and her mind flits to memories of her great love for a man named Charlie…and then her relationship with a professor named Will Burnside, whom she cannot forget. She seems to blame Emma for losing these “loves of her life.”

Kate Waters, the reporter, is such an interesting character who searches for answers, interviews people who lived in the neighborhood where the baby was found, and gradually finds herself drawn more and more to the women who all seem to have a personal interest in the story. Her ferocious pursuit despite discouraging moments kept me intrigued, as she met with numerous characters, many of whom were troubling and sometimes unreliable.

I loved watching how she pushed ahead to find the answers…and then, just when I thought she had it all figured out, a startling twist turned everything upside down. Suddenly, out of the confusion, the clarity came. An unputdownable novel that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SHADOW YEAR, BY HANNAH RICHELL

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Dual time lines carry the story in The Shadow Year, from the 1980s to the present.

In the 1980s, we watch a group of post-graduate students try an experimental living arrangement in an old abandoned cottage in the Peaks District, outside of London. Kat, Mac, Ben, and Carla each have their own issues, but are willing to follow along for a while. Simon takes the leadership role, but will his quest for power ruin their efforts? As tensions, hunger, and power struggles take over, we see how this “Walden” experiment unravels. Especially after Kat’s sister Freya joins the group.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Lila is suffering the grief following the loss of her infant. She has memory issues, and as she sleeps, her dreams take her into the moments before her fall down the staircase. The fall that killed her daughter.

When Lila anonymously inherits an old cabin in the Peaks District, she is drawn into sorting through clues left behind. Will she figure out what happened thirty years before? Can the lives lived here before help her deal with her loss, or will they exacerbate her distress? And what, if anything, connects her to this place? What secrets are hidden here? Finally, what really happened to her that day on the stairs?

I was stunned by how events unfolded and what hidden connections were revealed. I had guessed some of the secrets, but the final reveal was one I didn’t see coming. 5 stars.