Dear Reader: a letter from Fiona Barton
Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.
Here, Fiona introduces her debut novel and tells us where she found her inspiration for the book:
I’ve spent a lot of time watching people. Not just in cafés and railway stations, but as a job. As a journalist, I’ve been a professional watcher – a ‘trained observer’, we like to joke – picking up the body language and verbal tics that make us individuals and interesting to others.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed the victims, the guilty, the famous, the important and the ordinary people affected by tragedy or good fortune. But, strangely, it is not always the people in the spotlight that have stayed with me. It is often those on the periphery, the bit players in the drama, that continue to haunt.
In big trials – notorious and terrible crimes that made headlines – I would find myself watching the wife of the man in the dock and wondering what she really knew, or allowed herself to know.
You will have seen her too, on the news. You may have to look carefully, but she’s there, standing quietly behind her man on the court steps. She nods and squeezes his arm as he protests his innocence because she believes in him.
But what happens when the cameras are packed away and the world stops watching?
I have an enduring image of two people eating shepherd’s pie, like any other couple in their street, but unable to speak. The only sound is the scrape of cutlery on china as they struggle with the doubts seeping under their suburban front door.
Because, without witnesses or distractions, masks cannot help but slip.
I wanted – needed – to know how this woman copes with the idea that her husband – the man she chose – may be a monster.
And Jean Taylor emerged. She is the quiet woman I have seen so often on the steps of the court, the wife I have spotted, watching, expressionless, as her husband gives evidence.
In this, my first novel, Jean tells her public and private versions of an adored husband and happy marriage turned upside down when a child vanishes and the police and press arrive on her doorstep.
I hope you enjoy this book. I have loved writing it and can’t thank Jean Taylor – and the women who inspired her – enough.