The author introduces the reader to clinical psychologist Joseph O’Laughlin while he is sitting on the roof of a hospital high above the streets of London. “From the pitched slate roof of the Royal Marsden Hospital, if you look between the chimney pots and TV aerials, you see more chimney pots and aerials. It’s like that scene from Mary Poppins where all the chimney sweeps dance across the rooftops twirling their brooms.” He is sitting on the pitched roof, talking to a teenager who has decided to kill himself rather than continue treatment for an inoperable brain tumor. O’Loughlin promises to help his parents accept his decision. The situation is resolved happily and O’Loughlin becomes an instant celebrity.
Happily married and the father of an 8 year-old daughter, he has everything in the world any man could want. He also has, at age 42, something no one wants. He has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a situation he is finding difficult to handle. His inability to discuss their future with Julianne is putting a strain on their marriage and O’Loughlin, who has made a career out of getting people to face their problems, can’t face his.
O’Loughlin has been involved in an outreach center for prostitutes, helping them to acquire the skills and attitudes that will keep them from being a statistic, a member of the largest group of unsolved killings in Britain. As O’Loughlin talks to a group of these women, police enter the hall. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz has come to enlist the women’s help rather than arrest them. An unidentified woman’s body has been found and the police believe she is a prostitute. Ruiz is hoping the women can give her a name. They can’t but Ruiz recognizes O’Loughlin and asks O’Loughlin to put his skills to work, to look at the body and determine if there is anything about the body that can help the police.
There is definitely something O’Loughlin recognizes. The dead woman is Catherine MacBride and O’Loughlin dooms his relationship with Ruiz when he doesn’t give him that information immediately.
In rapid succession, Ruiz discovers evidence that incriminates O’Loughlin. Catherine MacBride was not a prostitute. She was a nurse, a former patient and someone O’Loughlin met when he was newly qualified and they worked in the same hospital in Liverpool. He denies that he has seen or had any contact with Catherine since those days and he invokes doctor-patient privilege. Ruiz insists that doctor-patient privilege dies with the patient and O’Loughlin is a guilty man.
The first section of the book establishes O’Loughlin as the prey and Ruiz as the hunter and there is a third party who is pulling the strings, setting up the psychologist as murderer. It is in the second part of the book that the story, and O’Loughlin, take off. That he has been set up is obvious; it could be a patient or it could be the man O’Loughlin considers his best friend. O’Loughlin decides to start with Bobby Moran, the patient, and that requires a trip back to Liverpool. As O’Loughlin gathers information, he is beaten and his family is threatened. He makes up his mind that if he has to die to save his wife and daughter, he will. He will not let his fear of the effects of Parkinson’s keep him from being the man he has to be.
O’Loughlin had no idea of the web that was being spun around him when he identified Catherine MacBride. He had no idea that the trap to destroy him and his family had been set long before Catherine’s murder.
Robotham opens the book with O’Loughlin and the teenage cancer patient sitting on the hospital roof. O’Loughlin has to talk this boy back to safety. The dialogue is wonderful. Neither knows quite what to do next to save the situation. The boy is desperate but he wants to be rescued. O’Loughlin is desperate to do the rescuing. The scene is funny and touching and O’Loughlin has to be courageous while he carefully chooses each word.
Robotham ends the book on an entirely different note. O’Loughlin has tapped into a physical courage he didn’t realize he possessed and the frightened man, burdened by the knowledge of his disease, has become a man who won’t be defined by its limitations.
I first read this book when it was published in 2005. And then I read LOST, THE NIGHT FERRY and SHATTER. There is a fifth book in the series that is only available on Kindle so that one is lost to me. Robotham has created two strong and interesting characters in Joseph O’Loughlin and Vincent Ruiz. SUSPECT is tight but every scene is discribed in such a way that the reader doesn’t miss any important details. I recommend them and suggest they be read in order.