Book extract: ‘The Suspect’ by Fiona Barton
If you liked ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ ...
In 2017 The Widow became a runaway bestseller and Fiona Barton became a debut author to watch. Stephen King said: “If you liked Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you might want to pick up The Widow by Fiona Barton. Engrossing. Suspenseful.” Readers quickly took to one of her characters – intrepid tabloid reporter Kate Waters. In 2018 Barton decided to bring her back for her second “unputdownable” domestic thriller, The Child. It was a hit and now Kate Waters has become a beloved character, featuring prominently in Barton’s latest, The Suspect (Bantam Press, R290). Here are the first few riveting chapters:
EXTRACT: THE SUSPECT Chapter 1: The Reporter Sunday, July 27, 2014 The call comes at three a.m. The jagged ring of the bedside telephone tearing a hole in our sleep.
I reach out a hand to silence it.
“Hello,” I whisper.
Static whispers back to me. I press the phone harder to my ear.
“Who is this?”
I feel Steve roll over to face me, but he doesn’t speak.
The hissing static fades and I hear a voice.
“Hello. Hello,” it says, searching for me.
I pull myself up and switch on the light. Steve groans and rubs his eyes.
“Kate? What’s going on?” he says.
“Who is this?” I repeat. But I know.
“Mum,” the voice says, the word distorted by distance—or drink, perhaps, I think uncharitably.
“Sorry I missed your birthday,” it says.
The line fizzes again and he’s gone.
I look at Steve.
“Was it him?” he asks.
I nod. “He’s sorry he missed my birthday . . .”
It’s the first time in seven months that he’s phoned. There’ve been three e-mails, but our eldest son told us early on that he wouldn’t be contactable by phone. Said he was freeing himself of all the stress that constant calls would bring. He’d stay in touch with us.
When he last rang, it was Christmas morning. We’d hoped he would be there with us, pulling crackers and making his lethal mulled wine. We’d suggested and then pleaded by e-mail, sending money by Western Union for a plane ticket when he seemed to weaken. He’d picked up the cash. Of course he had. But Jake had stayed away, managing only a ten-minute call on the day. Steve had answered the phone and spoken to him first while I hovered beside him; then he’d asked to speak to his little brother, Freddie, and finally to his mother.
I’d hugged the phone, as if I could feel the heft and warmth of him, and tried to listen, not talk. But he’d remained distant as the seconds counted down in a phone booth somewhere and I’d found myself turning inquisitor.
“So, where are you now, love?”
“Here.” He’d laughed.
“Still in Phuket?”
“And are you working?”
“Yeah, sure. Doing this and that.”
“But what about money?”
“I’m managing, Mum. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
“Well, as long as you are happy,” I’d heard myself say. The coward’s way out.
“Yes, I am.”
After I’d put the phone down, Freddie had put a glass of prosecco in my hand and kissed my cheek.
“Come on, Mum. He’s fine. Having a brilliant time lying around in the sun while we’re sitting here in the slush and rain.”
But I’d known deep down he wasn’t fine. His voice had become wary. And that nervy laugh. He didn’t sound like my Jake anymore.
Chapter 2: The Mother Friday, August 15, 2014 Lesley searched the inbox again. Just in case she’d missed it. She knew she hadn’t, but to stop looking would mean they had to act. They’d agreed. Malcolm stood behind her, watching her every move. She could feel the tension radiating off him.
“Anything?” he asked.
“I’m ringing the police.”
She nodded. They’d never had to ring the police before in all their married life. The police belonged to another world— the world they saw on television or in the papers. Not theirs. She was shaking as Malcolm picked up the phone. She wanted to tell him to wait. To give it another day. Not to start this. Not to bring this into their home.
“Mal,” she said, but he looked at her as he dialed, silencing her. She could hear the hum of the fridge and a car passing by outside. Life going on.
“Hello, I’d like to report my daughter missing,” she heard him say. That life was over.
“A week. We haven’t heard from her or the friend she’s with for almost a week,” he said. “Her A Level results came out yesterday, but she still hasn’t been in touch.
“She’s Alexandra O’Connor.
“Eighteen. Her birthday was in May.”
Icing that cake, Lesley thought. Didn’t look anything like Ed Sheeran apart from the red hair, but Alex had loved it. She tuned back in to hear her husband apologizing.
“Sorry, I thought I said. She’s in Thailand, backpacking with her friend Rosie Shaw. Her last text message said they were still in Bangkok.”
It took another twenty minutes for Malcolm to explain the situation, give his details, and listen to the advice. When he put the phone down he rubbed his eyes and kept his hands there for a moment.
“What? What did they say?” Lesley said, the panic making her voice loud and unlike her usual tone. “Who did you talk to? Tell me!”
Her husband jerked his head up and looked at her as if to reassure himself this was his wife, shrieking in their kitchen.
“They took down all the details, love. You heard me. I spoke to a woman officer. I wrote it on a bit of paper.” He reached over to the counter and picked up a Post-it note.
Lesley brushed it aside so it floated to the tiled floor.
“Never mind that. What did this woman say? What are they going to do to find Alex and Rosie?”
Malcolm stooped to pick up the piece of paper and put it back on the counter. Lesley wanted to hit him.
“Sorry, love, but we are going to need this.” He spoke slowly, as if she were an elderly relative. “She said she’s going to pass on the details to Interpol and we should ring the British embassy in Bangkok. That’s what they advise. But she said this happens a lot; young people going traveling and forgetting to contact their parents. She said it was early days and that we should try not to worry.”
“So she thinks it’s going to be all right?” Lesley willed him to say yes or nod. Let it be all right . . . Malcolm shook his head. “She doesn’t know, love. We’ve to ring her if Alex gets in touch—or if she doesn’t in another week.”
“She will, won’t she?”
Malcolm pulled her to him. “Of course she will. She’ll want to know her A Level results. Tomorrow or the next day. She’ll turn up, like a bad penny.”
Lesley wiped her eyes with a paper towel and tried to look hopeful.
“I’d better ring Jenny back,” she said, grateful there was something practical to be done. “I told her I would as soon as we’d spoken to the police. She got a bit funny about it yesterday.”
“I think she’s as frantic as we are. Rosie’s her only one. And Jenny’s on her own.”
“Okay. What are you doing?”
Malcolm was tapping at the keyboard of the laptop. “The police want a photo. I said I’d send one. Then I’ll find the number for the embassy.”
Lesley looked over his shoulder. He’d picked the one Alex had sent of her and Rosie in a tuk-tuk on the day they arrived, grinning madly into the selfie, their surroundings a blur.
“At least they’re together,” Lesley said and wept, her head on her arms on their kitchen table.
Bangkok Day 1 (Sunday, July 27, 2014) https://www.facebook.com/alexoconnor.333
July 27 at 0500
. . . is here. It’s brilliant. The adventure starts now . . .
Her fingers danced over the keys of her phone, posting the selfie of her standing in front of Suvarnabhumi Airport with tired eyes and a silly grin on her face. She’d planned this photo on the plane. She knew what it would look like but she hadn’t factored in the noise and heat as the terminal doors slid open. The heat had shaken her physically. She’d known it would be hot — Google had told her — but not like this. It was wet on her face and she could taste it on her tongue. She put her backpack down carefully, trapping it with her feet to keep it safe, and stretched her arms above her head, feeling the first buzz of freedom.
Her fingers danced over the keys of her phone, posting the selfie of her standing in front of Alex had looked forward to this for a year, fantasizing about places, people, adventures, while she stacked shelves and pulled pints to earn the money.
She’d looked forward to everything about it, starting with the flight—she’d always loved the sensation of suddenly rushing down the runway toward something new. And she’d felt the same thrill as the engines revved high at the start of this, her first long haul taking her across the world. But the sensation had worn off quickly. It was eleven hours sitting in a middle seat, trying not to touch the arms of those hidden under thin blankets like corpses.
Rosie had had three glasses of wine with her hideous airline meal — “The chicken or the pasta?” — and Alex had warned her she’d get dehydrated. Her friend had rolled her eyes and made a big show of flirting with the man in the next seat before falling asleep and snoring gently. Alex had tried to sleep, too, squirming in her narrow seat to find a comfortable position, pulling up her blanket and uncovering her feet, fidgeting with her safety belt to stop it digging into her hip. In the end she’d sat in the dark and watched films on the tiny rectangle in front of her until her eyes stung.
When the lights came back on an hour before landing, she’d unbuckled and gone to the toilet. Her face in the mirror looked weird. Eyes red-rimmed and mouth slack with sleep deprivation. She’d yawned at herself and wrestled with the unfamiliar door to get out, suddenly panicky.
Her face in the mirror looked weird. Eyes red-rimmed and mouth slack with sleep deprivation. There’d been a boy standing waiting when she burst out. She’d laughed at herself — “They’re a real nightmare to unlock, aren’t they?”
He’d smiled shyly back and let her past.
And now she was here. Bangkok. She picked up her backpack and swung it heavily onto her shoulder and staggered slightly, dizzy from the sudden movement. She felt stiff and spacey, as if her feet didn’t quite touch the ground.
Strangers were asking her to come with them. Small men with wide smiles and insistent hands.
“You need a taxi?”
“I know good guesthouse.”
“You want to see temple?”
She stood, the choices drumming on her skull. It was five a.m., dark, hot, and she wanted to lie down somewhere.
Come on, Alex — let’s go, she told herself. Where’s Rosie?
Her friend had wandered off, looking for something for her headache.
“You shouldn’t have had all that wine on the plane. Didn’t you bring any paracetamol?” Alex had said, reaching to unzip the side pocket of her bag.
“No,” Rosie had snapped and marched off.
Alex hoped it was going to be all right. Anyway, it was too late for doubts. They were here. And it was brilliant. Well, it would be.
• From The Suspect by Fiona Barton. Reprinted by arrangement with Transworld, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Fiona Barton.