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Book Review: ‘The Suspect’ by Fiona Barton

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all doing well. Today I’m sharing my review of Fiona Barton’s compelling psychological thriller, ‘The Suspect‘. I didn’t really have any expectations going into this book, but ended up really enjoying it! So, keep reading to discover my thoughts…

the suspect

‘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 . . .

** TRIGGER WARNING ** Explores the theme of death in great detail, including grief and loss. Casual sex and sexual exploitation is explored throughout the novel, including some references to prostitution. Includes references to substance abuse, specifically drug use and excessive alcohol consumption. Scenes of abuse are also included in the novel, including both physical and emotional violence. Finally, the theme of arson is also depicted.

‘The Suspect’ (September 2019) is the third book in the “Kate Waters” series, following on from ‘The Widow’ (2016) and ‘The Child’ (2017). Barton has worked as a journalist for many years, and has previously won Reporter of the Year at the British Press Awards. She was born in Cambridge and currently lives in Sussex and south-west France.

The novel has received positive reviews, with Daily Express calling it “a tense story with brilliant use of flashbacks and face-slapping revelations”. Many fellow authors have also praised the book, such as Gillian McAllister: “superb writing, often blackly funny, and a scene that made me cry into my pillow”, Shari Lapena: “utterly engrossing … I lived inside this book for two days – and I’m still thinking about it” and C.L. Taylor: “intelligent, insightful and compelling”.

‘The Suspect’ follows the life of journalist Kate Waters, who is reporting on the case of two missing young girls in Thailand. Her own son is travelling is Thailand too, and as the case begins to unfold, it soon becomes clear that Kate and her family are also in danger…

The story is told from the perspectives of ‘The Reporter’ (Kate Waters), ‘The Mother’ (Lesley O’Connor) and ‘The Detective’ (DS Zara Salmond). The novel also contains actual diary entries and emails from Alex O’Connor (the missing girl). Kate’s narrative is told in the first-person, whereas Lesley and Zara’s are told in the third-person. Each chapter is written in the style of a diary entry, flitting between the three main characters. The narrative is fairly easy to follow, yet still very effective.

My favourite character in the novel is Alex. Although she’s not a main narrator, I really enjoyed reading her diary entries. Alex has just finished her exams and decides to go travelling with her friend Rosie. She was originally supposed to travel with her best friend Mags, but when Mags dropped out due to money issues, Rosie stepped in. Alex and Rosie have different ideas about travelling, and it soon becomes clear that the two girls want to do very different things whilst in Thailand. Alex does her best to keep the peace and not engage in any conflict with Rosie, but ends up sacrificing her own happiness and enjoyment in the meantime. Alex ends up getting caught up in some dangerous situations, and she must fight for what is right. I felt a great deal of sympathy towards her, and felt she was a very realistic character.

Kate is another fantastically-written character. She’s a successful journalist who works for a local newspaper, and she jumps at the chance to cover the missing-girls-in-Thailand story. Although he has not seen her own son for the last two years since he went travelling to Thailand, she convinces herself that this case is not personal and she can be an objective and distanced reporter. However, it soon becomes clear that Kate has some skeletons lurking in her closet, and the case starts to affect her on a personal level. Kate begins to doubt those closest to her, and she will do everything she can to discover the truth about what happened to those missing girls – and her son.

Alex’s mother, Lesley, is understandably devastated about her daughter’s disappearance. When she doesn’t hear from her daughter on her A-level results day she knows that something must be wrong, and she is wracked with guilt and grief. DS Zara Salmond is the detective assigned to the case. She does everything in her power to get to the bottom of what happened to Alex and Rosie – although the cases throws up some nasty surprises.

** TRIGGER WARNING ** (I apologise for any spoilers here.) This novel explores the theme of death in great detail, including in-depth depictions of grief and loss. Casual sex and sexual exploitation is explored throughout the novel, with some scenes making reference to prostitution. The novel also details substance abuse, specifically drug use and excessive alcohol consumption. Scenes of abuse are included within the novel, making reference to both physical and emotional violence. Finally, the theme is also depicted. All of these issues are explored with appropriate sensitivity – but if you feel that they may trigger a negative response, I suggest you skip this book.

As the narrative motors onwards, the truth about the missing girls seems further and further out of reach. Kate begins to get emotionally involved in the case, and she does her own digging on her family’s secrets and lies. The detectives must work around the clock to discover what really happened to Alex and Rosie – before it’s too late…

So, let’s talk about the ending. There’s a dramatic end scene in which the truth about the missing girls is finally revealed. The revelation is shocking and unexpected, and I definitely never saw that coming! The characters must learn to deal with the bitter truth and attempt to move on with their lives. I was really satisfied with the ending of the book, and felt that it tied everything together really well.

Overall, I recommend this novel to those of you who enjoy psychological thrillers, particularly if you enjoy books about missing people. There’s plenty of mystery and suspense, and a lot of twists and turns too. I especially enjoyed reading Alex’s diary entries and discovering more what happened to the girls on their Thailand adventure. My only criticism is that there was something lacking for me, and this book didn’t excite me as much as I’d hoped. But that being said, it was still a very good read.

Sound good? You can purchase the book here.

Happy reading 🙂

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