Please welcome Michael Robotham with his American debut of Suspect!
Synopsis and Review:
Robotham's first fiction novel is nothing short of perfection; it's totally enthralling, unabashedly poignant, and with more suspense and delectable tension then the recommended dosage. This is easily one of the best books out so far this year, and quite probably will remain on the list at the end of the year.
London's psychologist Joe O'Loughlin has it all with the perfect family and career, but that's all about to change when a woman he has a not so happy past with is found murdered. At first Joe is asked by the police to help in the investigation, but all too soon suspicion falls on him as his lies catch up to him when he is unable to provide an alibi for the date in question. And as it happens, that's the day Joe was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and what he did that day will haunt him for the rest of his life. And as he tries to find the true suspect, someone much closer than he wants to believe, he will discover that he might just have enough courage and fortitude to make it out alive.
Joe O'Loughlin makes the perfect imperfect hero as the man who once thought he had it all, with it not being his disease that creates problems in his life, but his perception of it, which is something he knows all too well but would rather not admit. But what makes him so utterly engaging and likable is his self-deprecating humor, his empathetic outlook, his sense of right and wrong, and his unwavering optimism- even when facing complete ruin. This is one those books that you never want to put down, that you never want to see end, but yet you still can't help racing to the finish with an undeniable need to see the final resolution.
1. It's interesting that your background is in journalism, however, your main character is a psychologist, why this route?
As a journalist, I was fortunate to meet and interview criminal psychologists, some of whom helped investigate some of Britain’s worst crimes. I learned how these people look for the ‘mind trace’ left behind at a crime scene rather than physical clues. Psychologists pick up things the police miss and, more importantly, understand not just what happened, but why. That’s why I chose a psychologist as my main character.
2. You write on the subject of the psychological impact of one's past with a great deal of knowledge and insight, where does this come from?
The past and present are inextricably linked because our behavior and thought processes are shaped by our environment and upbringing. Genetics also plays a role, of course, but very rarely is true evil born. In most cases it is created by circumstances. My knowledge of these things comes from my research and having ghostwritten books for psychologists and therapists.
3. Your main character has a lot to deal with having Parkinson's, why did you choose this particular affliction, or for that matter, any affliction at all?
Joe has the perfect life with a beautiful wife, clever daughter and a brilliant career – all of which unravel in spectacular fashion in SUSPECT. I know that the diagnosis of early onset Parkinsons’s Disease seems almost too cruel but I wanted Joe’s predicament to be hopeless. His entire world is falling apart and he can’t even rely on his body because that too is abandoning him.
I chose Parkinson’s Disease because it attacks the body and not the mind. Joe can’t fight his way out of trouble. He has to think his way out.
Joe has a brilliant mind and whatever happens he will still be able to live in the space between his ears. In a sense I pictured him as being a little like Prof Stephen Hawking, a modern day Einstein with a wasted body, trapped in a wheelchair.
4. Joe has a tendency not to follow the advice he might give to others, what makes him so blind to his own inadequacies in the communication department?
I think we have to imagine ourselves in Joe’s situation before we judge him too harshly. He has just been diagnosed with a debilitating, chronic and progressive disease that will destroy his quality of life and shorten it dramatically. The future looks very scary and like a lot of men Joe internalizes his worst fears. He wants to protect his family, not burden them.
5. Joe shows a great deal of empathy towards those who suffer from all sorts of degradation, especially prostitutes. Considering his uptown upbringing, where does such empathy and understanding come from?
Joe is an enormously compassionate man and therefore feels sadness and regret for his patients and anyone who is less fortunate. Most of the people in his consulting room have suffered abuse or illness or degradations. Similarly, most prostitutes don’t choose their lives. They are forced into sex work by circumstances. I think anyone who chooses to be clinical psychologists has a very caring nature and high level of compassion.
6. Such a realistic character, anyone you know?
I know clinical and criminal psychologists but Joe is definitely not modeled on any of them. I wanted to make him a very ordinary man, with an extraordinary mind, who is put under extreme pressure.
7. Where did you get the idea for this enticing tale?
Many years ago, while writing a story about a social worker in the North of England, she told me how that day she had taken a newborn baby away from a young woman who a judge had ruled was incapable of looking after a child. The mother was inconsolable as the baby was wrenched from her arms. As the social worker carried the infant away, she looked down and asked herself, ‘What if one day, years from now, you come looking for me? Will you thank me for having saved your life or blame me for having ruined it?’
Psychologists, social workers and judges often decide the fate of entire families. They play god with other people’s lives…but what if they get it wrong. This is the question at the heart of SUSPECT.
8. You seem to have a love-hate ambiguous sort of feeling for the "system", what is it that you might change if you could?
Perhaps because of my many years as a journalist I’m aware of how many faults there are in the ‘system’. Mistakes are made: often by people with the best possible intentions but who fail to appreciate the implications. If I could change anything, it would be the culture of blame shifting where authorities at every level refuse to accept responsibility or admit they were wrong. Instead they spin.
9. This is a frightening tale of bad decisions compounding bad decisions, all leading to catastrophe, yet there seems to be a subtle positive message that one can have control over their past, and their future. Do you see this as a truth, or is Joe and everyone else just a victim of circumstance, with life's decisions a matter of defensive reactions?
I think we do control our destinies but only up to a point. Life is too random and fate too fickle to allow anything absolute. I didn’t set out to write a morality tale. I wanted to show how one small mistake or lie could snowball out of control and destroy a life and a family.
We keep rooting for Joe because he is a flawed human being – just like the rest of us. And when his life begins falling apart we feel for him because we think to ourselves…there but for the grace of God…
10. And finally, we know you have another in the works with these wonderful characters and so we have to ask, what is in store for them next time?
Joe and Detective Vincent Ruiz return in my next novel, LOST, but this time it is Ruiz who narrates the story. It opens in a hospital where Ruiz is recovering after being gunshot wound. A seven-year-old girl is missing and so is Ruiz’s memory.
Under investigation by his colleagues and accused of faking amnesia, his only hope of unraveling the puzzle is to retrace his steps and relive that night with the help of Joe O'Loughlin. Facts, not memories, solve cases. Facts, not memories will tell him what happened to the missing girl.
For more info on Michael Robotham visit his website: http://www.michaelrobotham.com