Internationally bestselling author Fiona Barton’s latest novel has everything you expect to find in a typical thriller: A dogged reporter whose investigative skills rival those of the police; a seasoned detective whose love for the job is matched only by his love for his dying wife; young, beautiful murder victims whose secrets seemed to have died when they did; and a whole host of shady suspects, crooked characters, and questionable personalities, all capable of committing the crimes in question. And yet, in Barton's expert hands, The Suspect transcends the typical to become something more: A gripping psychological suspense about the changing relationship between parents and their grown children, and the paralyzing fear that seizes the former when the latter leaves the nest for the first time.
At the center of the story is Kate Waters, a star journalist in London who is struggling to find a good story in the middle of summer’s notorious news slump. That is, until she gets wind of the possible disappearance of two 18-year-old girls in Thailand.
While on a trip that was meant to be the vacation of their lives, Alex O'Connor and Rosie Shaw have gone missing. That is, according to their parents back in London who haven't heard from the girls in a week. Their last known location was Bangkok, but it has been more than seven days since either Alex or Rosie have updated their social media, called home, or sent an email to their family. Their parents know something has gone wrong — the only question is: What?
As usual, Kate works tirelessly to get the inside scoop, forming bonds with the parents of the missing teens and really digging into their lives. "'Being a reporter is touchy-feely, you idiot. We're not here to observe the news happening through a telescope — or Google,'" Kate explains to a young journalist she has taken under her wing. "'You've got to plunge yourself into this job so you can feel things, see things up close, understand them. You've got to get your hands dirty. Right up to the elbows."
But her understanding of the families' pain goes beyond basic empathy. Kate knows what it's like to fear for the safety of her child. Two years earlier, her son Jake unexpectedly dropped out of law school and moved to Thailand to find himself, and his infrequent calls and brief emails leave both Kate and her husband Steve worried about what he’s really up to abroad. "Being a reporter means I know that these things happen to people like us," Kate says. Things, she means, like tragic car accidents, dangerous muggings, violent attacks, and murder. The more Kate gets involved with Alex and Rosie's disappearance, the more she worries about the location and safety of her own son.
Those worries are only amplified when the girls are found dead after a fire devastates Mamma's Paradise Bar and Guesthouse, the rooming house Alex and Rosie were staying at. Heartbroken and in disbelief, the parents travel to Bangkok to identify the bodies, and Kate is there to cover the tragic story. But when a tip leads her to a supposed survivor of the fire, she learns the most shocking news of all: her son Jake may have been involved in the events at Mama's. When an autopsy reveals the girls' deaths were not related to the fire, he becomes the London police's number one suspect, and it becomes clear that none of these parents — not Kate, not Alex's parents, not Rosie's mom — truly knew their children.
Like her two previous bestselling novels, The Widow and The Child, Barton's latest thriller is masterfully written, expertly plotted, and skillfully paced. And while The Suspect is not look-over-your-shoulder scary, it is terrifying nonetheless. Using her exceptional storytelling skills and her keen insight into the minds of each of her characters — from the many shades of grief the parents at go through to the fear and loneliness the teens feel alone and abroad for the first time in their lives — Barton creates a twisty mystery that packs a serious emotional punch.