Last year, I listened to an audiobook of Fiona Barton’s The Child and loved the twists in the story and how the narrative jumped between characters, providing different perspectives on the case with very different agendas. That book became a go-to mystery novel recommendation for me.
I jumped at the chance to preview Barton’s new novel, The Suspect. This book sees the return of Barton characters including dogged reporter Kate Winters, her disappointing son Jake, and DI Bob Sparkes. The story opens on the disappearance of two British teenagers, Alex and Rosie, who have gone on a gap year adventure to Thailand and suddenly stop contacting their parents. Based on social media, it looks like the girls are having the time of their lives, so initially everyone but the mums and dads think the girls have just gone off on a lark and gotten a bit irresponsible about checking in at home. Quickly, however, the case turns more sinister, and, when Kate goes to Thailand to report, it all gets more personal than she ever could have imagined.
Like Barton’s other novels, the narration of the story changes perspectives throughout, moving between Kate, Sparkes, Alex, and Alex’s mother. I found all of these narrators engaging except “The Mother.” I know that that portion was supposed to represent the emotions of the families of the missing girls, but I felt the least interested in what she had to say and her portion rarely moved the story forward. I was most interested in Kate’s story and Alex’s. While DI Sparkes provided a lot of good detective work and had his own heart wrenching backstory, Kate and Alex’s narratives were really where the discrepancies between appearances and reality were starkest and most interesting.
I was also a little uneasy about the role Thailand plays in this book. Alex desperately wants to get out of Bangkok and see the beautiful sites around Thailand, but she gets stuck in a crappy hostel in the city, and as a result, Thailand comes off as nothing but seedy and corrupt. Throw in the invasion of British reporters and cops and the colonial implications were kind of iffy.
Those are my only two criticisms, though. I was sucked in by the story, kept trying to guess the ending (I almost did) and I really enjoyed the characters and their voices. I thoroughly recommend this novel for those who love a good mystery and an intrepid reporter. You do not have to have read Barton’s other books to read this one. Like Tana French’s books, the characters are consistent, but the mysteries stand alone.
I received an advance copy of The Suspect from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Suspect comes out Jan 22, 2019.