The Widow

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The Widow, published by Fiona Barton in 2016, is a successful psychological thriller presented in a novel way.  The plot concerns the abduction of a toddler and the various characters involved in the crime, including the child’s mother, the detective obsessed with solving the crime, the reporter who covers the story, and the main suspect and his wife (the eponymous widow).  Alternate chapters continue the story from the points of view of each of the characters except the suspect, whose thoughts are only presented as reported by his wife.  This may be due to the basic problem of writing from the point of view of a psychopath – unless you are one, how can you know what they think?

Another difficulty is understanding the thinking of someone married to a psychopath, and what brought these two people together in the first place.  Barton doesn’t explain this explicitly, but she provides enough background, told from the wife’s point of view, to give us an idea how it happened.  Her husband chose her when she was very young.  He was older, a clever man with a good job, and able to make a big impression on a rather timid and sheltered girl and her parents.  The assumption is that her obedient and admiring attitude is what attracted him.

An interesting aspect of the plot is the premise that both the suspect and his wife change over the years.  His psychological aberrations hadn’t yet manifested themselves at the time of his marriage, but gradually became more and more pronounced.  And of course, impressionable young girls, no matter how insecure and self-effacing, grow up.

HeartSick

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Are there female serial killers?  I know there have been psychopathic women who have committed multiple murders, sometimes including their own children, but that’s not the same as having a compulsion to kill a series of strangers who have some characteristics in common.

Chelsea Cain’s “HeartSick” is based on the existence of a beautiful, highly intelligent, woman who has killed dozens of girls (no other common characteristics mentioned), enlisting men to help her.  As a grande finale, she kidnaps and tortures the detective in charge of the team looking for her.  After nearly killing him, she gives him emergency medical treatment and turns herself in.  She apparently doesn’t mind being imprisoned for life as long as she knows that she has damaged this detective so much, both physically and psychologically, that he lives in constant pain and can never forget her.

The existence of female serial killers aside, this is such an unbelievable story line that a lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to make a decent book out of it.  Added to that, the descriptions of the torture inflicted on the unfortunate detective are so detailed and graphic that I stopped reading them, in keeping with my philosophy that real life is quite gruesome enough all by itself.

The beautiful psycho takes up a lot of pages, but there is an entire murder mystery that doesn’t depend on her, even though Cain halfheartedly ties her in at the end.  This parallel mystery involves a garden variety male serial killer, the same detective, and a cute young reporter, and made a good read.