Fiona Barton is a former longtime reporter-turned fiction writer. Her first novel introduced readers to Kate Waters, a reporter sharing stories of real-life horrors.
In her third book, Barton takes us into Kate Waters’ life — her life as a mom willing to do anything to save her son.
Two teenage girls take a trip to Thailand during their gap year while waiting for their A-level exam results. Alex and Rosie leave with the promise to text their parents every few days and call home for their exam results.
When the results arrive and the girls don’t check in, their parents become worried. After a week, they notify the police. Kate gets the story and decides it’s a way she can also check in on her own son.
Jake Waters left for Thailand a couple years ago, and Kate hasn’t heard from him in weeks. He was supposed to be working on turtle nature preserves, but Kate has doubts. Her instincts tell her he is in trouble.
As the investigation to find the missing girls continues, Kate fears that her son truly is in trouble and linked to the missing girls.
Barton tells the story of the missing girls through various perspectives, including those of the missing girls’ parents, Kate, and the missing girls.
The timeline goes back and forth from when the girls went missing to when the girls arrived in Thailand. Not all is as it seems on social media, and calls home and the story begins to unravel. As a reader you wonder who is lying and who is keeping secrets. Barton throws in enough twists to keep you wondering what really happened to Alex and Rosie.
Barton’s books are set in the United Kingdom, so some of the procedures and terminology are different from what we are used to in the United States. Barton traveled to Bangkok for a weekend as part of her research, giving her plenty of fodder for creating the nightmare setting that unfolds for Alex and Rosie.
Making Kate the center of the story rather than the one telling it is a change for Barton. But she knows from her time as a reporter that these situations happen. Barton knows a parent’s fears from when her son traveled during his gap year. She worried when he didn’t keep in touch.
Barton opens strong, letting readers know the girls will go missing. As the story progresses, there is a bit of a lull. I wanted to hurry the pace a bit. A couple of side stories emerge with the detective and the parents of the missing girls, and I felt like it pulled me away from what I wanted to read about. I found myself flipping back and forth several times while trying to keep the characters and timeline straight.
Thankfully, each chapter starts with the character perspective the chapter is told from and the date.
Readers will identify with Kate and the parents of the missing girls as their panic over what happened to their children grows. But the situations the kids find themselves in seemed a bit far-fetched and over the top.
The idea of a gap year and sending two 18-year-old girls to Thailand alone is not part of my reality, either.
As a mom, I found “The Suspect” intense. I put myself in Kate’s shoes and wondered what decisions I would have made.
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Barton also creates a moral dilemma: Do we really know our kids and, as a mother, even when our kids become adults, do we ever stop worrying?