Source: Review copy
Publication: 24 January 2019 from Bantam Press
The police belonged to another world – the world they saw on the television or in the papers. Not theirs.’
When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing on their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft and frantic with worry.
Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth – and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, who she hasn’t seen in two years, since he left home to go travelling. This time it’s personal.
And as the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think . . .
Happy Publication day to Fiona Barton.
The Suspect is easily read as a stand-alone novel, and it makes for a great read. Fiona Barton brings her intrepid protagonist, reporter Kate Edwards. I really like Kate Edwards, because she is remarkably like all the print journalists I have ever known and her character rings solid and true.
The storyline is a sad one. Two young girls, taking time out after their final A-level exams, decide to go backpacking to Thailand and go missing in Bangkok.
Their parents are frantic and Kate, looking for a story in the silly season where news is hard to come by, sees a wealth of human interest copy to keep her on the front page. Quickly fastening on to the story, Kate makes contact with the parents and is soon helping them to get their story out through both the press and social media to pile the pressure onto the police, The British Embassy and thus onwards to the Thai authorities to help them find the girls and bring them home.
We learn a lot about the parents’ relationships, their fears and emotions as the task looks so difficult. So many ways to disappear in Bangkok and so few willing to be helpful on the ground.
Kate’s own position is difficult, too. Her son Jake, went to Thailand more than two years ago, ostensibly to work on a conversation project, but contact from him has been both sparse and sporadic and she would dearly love to know what he’s doing and whether he plans to come home.
Told from the perspective of Kate; Lesley, the mother of one of the missing girls, one of the girls and D.I. Bob Sparkes, a policeman with whom Kate has always had a decent working relationship, this is a story about the process of finding the girls and of the fears and emotions behind the search.
When the bodies of two girls are found in a burnt out ‘sweetie shop’, a place where drugs are known to be freely sold, the story turns into one of grim speculation, recriminations and a search for the truth in the face of uncooperative authorities and some downright liars.
Kate’s way in to the parents puts her in poll position to travel to Thailand to follow up the story, with the rest of the press pack hot on her heels, desperate to find their own angle on the story and get a splash exclusive.
As the investigation deepens and the bodies are identified, Barton does an excellent job of conveying the mother’s grief, and the insertion of the British police into the investigation, via Bob Sparkes, makes the investigative link between Thailand and the UK very clear for the reader.
But when Kate finds herself at the centre of the story, she has to try and reconcile being a reporter with also being a mother and the reader is left asking how well we know our children and how far a mother might go in order to get to the truth.
A sad story which is both an easy and a fast paced and entertaining read; it is an all too plausible scenario. If you have children planning to go backpacking, this is a salutary tale and it will certainly make you think at least twice before letting them leave the country, never mind going to Thailand.
Verdict: The Suspect is a right royal enjoyable page turner from Fiona Barton.
Fiona Barton’s debut, The Widow, was a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and has been published in 36 countries and optioned for television. Her second novel, The Child, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Born in Cambridge, Fiona currently lives in Sussex and south-west France.
Previously, she was a senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at the Mail on Sunday, where she won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards.
While working as a journalist, Fiona reported on many high-profile criminal cases and she developed a fascination with watching those involved, their body language and verbal tics. Fiona interviewed people at the heart of these crimes, from the guilty to their families, as well as those on the periphery, and found it was those just outside the spotlight who interested her most .