When Duty Callsby Deepa Gahlot April 18 2019, 4:00 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 1 sec
What happen when a reporter becomes a news story herself, and is hounded by scoop-seeking journalists? Fiona Barton’s third novel, The Suspect, also has as its protagonist, a senior and seasoned reporter, Kate Waters, only this time, she is on both sides of a scandalous story - a reporter and a subject.
Kate and her doctor husband Steve are worried about their older son Jake, who dropped out of college and left home ostensibly to explore the world. He keeps in touch with his parents very infrequently, and they are not even sure where he is.
Then two British girls, Alexandra ‘Alex’ O’Connor and Rosie Shaw, who headed to Thailand for a gap year, go missing and their parents are worried sick too. When there is no communication from them for two weeks, they report to the police; the case is picked up by DI Bob Sparkes and his deputy Zara Salmond. Kate has a cordial professional friendship with Sparkes, as they have often followed the same cases, she as a reporter and he as a detective.
Fiona Barton, The Suspect
Then, the girls are suspected dead in a guesthouse fire; the two sets of grieving parents have to travel to Bangkok to identify the bodies, and Kate goes with a photographer to cover the story. Much to her shock, she discovers that Jake happened to be at the same guesthouse, escaped with minor burns and then vanished from the hospital before she arrived. Another pack of journalists descend in a pack like wolves, including an obnoxious and pushy tabloid reporter, constantly snapping at Kate’s heels.
Kate, worried sick about her son, is at one point, hounded by her colleagues for the story, as the missing Jake goes from victim to hero to suspect. Due to the obvious conflict of interest, Kate is pulled off the story, but as a mother, she carries on with the investigation, with the help of her protégé Joe. The young reporter admires Kate, but has to often file stories hurtful to her, because, he has to stay ahead of the competition. While Kate goes through sleepless nights and the agonies of a mother with a missing child, she also understands the professional compulsions of intrusive and insensitive reporters pursuing her, since, she admits, under different circumstances, she would have done the same.
Bob Sparkes, coping with the imminent death of his beloved wife, has to keep his professional head on, and investigate the case since British nationals are involved; the Thai police turn out to be corrupt, inefficient and hostile.
What went on as the seedy Thai hostel, run by the formidable Mama, is reported by Alex in emails to her best friend, Mags, and these eventually turn out to be a valuable resource for the investigation. On her social media pages, however, she was all cheery and ‘having the time of my life’ happy, so her parent never suspected the sordid truth.
Amidst the sorrow and rage of the girls’ parents, there is a who-dun-it to be solved, and a huge moral choice Kate Waters is forced to make.
The suspense is not too strong, it is the emotional core of the story that makes it worth reading - the lonely suffering of parents when they realise their kids have grown out of their reach and there is nothing they can do to understand their minds or motives. All they can do is offer unconditional love, with no hope of reciprocation.
By Fiona Barton