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Suspect    by Michael Robotham order for
by Michael Robotham
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Vintage, 2005 (2005)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Suspect is Michael Robotham's exciting debut thriller. I read it out of order, after turning the last page of Lost made me want to spend more time with London psychologist, Professor Joe O'Loughlin, and Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz (who calls himself a dinosaur in modern policing). Allies in the second book, they are antagonistic in Suspect, where Ruiz comes to believe that Joe is a murderer.

But I'm getting ahead of the plot. Joe O'Loughlin is married to uberachiever Julianne, the love of his life, and they have a beloved eight-year-old daughter, Charlie. We see the psychologist's brilliance early in the story when he brings down safely a boy attempting suicide - by initiating a spitting contest. He treats his patients by listening rather than prescribing drugs as is common amongst his colleagues. The serpent in Joe's Eden is his recent diagnosis of Parkinson's, which he perceives as 'a distant train, hurtling through the darkness toward us. It might seem like a long way off, but it's coming.'

Joe meets Ruiz when he lectures a group of prostitutes on safety, at the request of Elisa, with whom he has a long history. Ruiz is there looking for information on the identity of a murder victim, assumed to be a prostitute since there have been no missing person resports matching her description. Asked by Ruiz to see if he can puzzle out anything from the body, Joe is shocked to find that she was a former patient, Catherine McBride, one who cut herself on a regular basis, and who at one point accused him of sexual assault. As circumstantial evidence builds against Joe, he finds himself increasingly concerned about an angry and violent patient, Bobby, who has nightmares and mentions a scarred girl and 'Death by a thousand cuts.' Could he be referring to Catherine?

But Bobby has an alibi. Joe is mired deeper and deeper in suspicion. He's arrested, released, and ends up on the run from a relentless law (led by DI Ruiz) as he digs into the history of Bobby's abused childhood in Liverpool and finds a surprising intersection with his own past. From the time of his rescue of the attempted suicide to this, Joe has gone from 'hero to zero'. His marriage is at risk, his life in ruins, and he's on the lam from both the law and the killer. But Joe rallies, with help from an unexpected source in a plotline that continues dealing out action and surprises to the very last page. Don't miss either Suspect or Lost.

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