DI Bob Sparkes feels early indications are that this is just another case of two girls having too good a time to bother phoning home. But as information drips in from Thailand, it soon becomes clear something sinister is behind their silence.
Journalist Kate Water, is, as always, exceptional at her job, and when Bob gives her the heads-up about the parents’ concerns for the missing girls, she is first on the scene. Moreover, their fears resonate with her own anxieties; her son has been in Thailand for two years, and he has melted out of her life too.
As police and press interest in the case grows, the parents find themselves in the spotlight. Then the call comes from Thailand, and Kate, the parents and Bob fly to Bangkok to do what the Thai police have failed to do – discover the truth.
The Suspect is a multiple-perspective family drama rather than a thriller. It uses the points of view of the reporter, the mother, the detective and Alex, one of the missing girls. Although this, along with short chapters, is a format I usually enjoy, it read too much like a report. I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters.
Quite the opposite. I wanted to slap most of the main players, except for Alex. There seems to be no escape in this book from adult enablers – parents who allow their children to embark on journeys that are more than foolhardy, they are positively dangerous. While I appreciate that there would be no story without these mistakes and their devastating consequences, it is overdone, and would have been more believable if one of the parents had showed a little common sense.
The conflict is unsubtle. There are too many stereotypical characters arguing with one another: the missing girls bitching, one divorced set of parents at loggerheads, one set of parents where the father is weak, one reporter who puts her job before her family (Kate lets two years pass without checking on her estranged son but flies off to Bangkok in pursuit of a story).
The villain’s raison raison d'être is convenient, typecast and overtold, yet they are underdeveloped. Although I quite liked Bob, the subplot of his dying wife served little purpose other than an attempt to make him more three-dimensional. There is a plethora of flat ‘extras,’ who have enough page-space to warrant a name but only confuse the plot and flow.
The Suspect has a few holes and situations that don't lend themselves to the book. And, unfortunately, the story meanders in the middle. Perhaps this is because the crime, presumably hidden at the start to prolong the mystery, has come to light, and the villain is obvious from early on.
There is a limited portrayal of the backdrop. I wanted more of a sense of Thailand, particularly the seedy areas, including the prison. There was a missed opportunity to use the milieu as a character and increase the tension and foreshadowing.
That said, the plot has a fresh enough feel, and the writing is sufficiently simplistic that this is an easy, one-sitting read. This is the third Kate Waters story but is a good standalone piece of escapism.