Book Review: Suspect, Michael Robotham

Having read Michael Robotham’s Joe ‘O’Loughlin books our of order (I literally read Say You’re Sorry, the latest, first – and loved it – see earlier review), I found I didn’t enjoy this first in the series as much as I feel I probably should.

Don’t get me wrong – this is a tautly written, gripping thriller that takes you on a roller-coaster ride as we’re introduced to the recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin. Dealing with this advancing neurological disease and the fact it will steal precious time with his beloved family is bad enough, but when Joe discovers that a woman who once accused him of sexual assault has been murdered, and all the clues as to her killer lead to him, time works against him in different ways.

Convinced the killer is one of his patients, no-one will listen to Joe and, as the body count increases, even those who know and love him start to regard him differently, particularly when Joe is caught in the biggest lie a married man can tell.

Not only do we meet Joe’s wife, Julieanne, and young, adorable daughter Charlie, this is also the book that introduces Vincent Ruiz – hardbitten detective who would be quite at home in a Raymond Chandler noir as he is between the pages of this book.

This is a real cat and mouse book – one where the roles sometimes change. While I can acknowledge the writing is superlative and the plotting excellent, I think it’s also testimony to Robotham (and possibly unfair of me) that the main reason I didn’t like the story as much is because, to me, Joe acted in a manner I considered out of character and which didn’t ring true. If I’d read the books in order, however, I presumably wouldn’t feel that way because I wouldn’t “know” Joe or be as invested in him as I’ve become. To me, this intelligent, deeply thinking man (always thinking, as Ruiz observes in a later book, which I’ve just finished and will shortly review as well), behaves in a way that jars – whether it’s how he responds to his diagnosis or the fact he continues to withhold information from the police, I’m not entirely sure. I found this enormously frustrating and even if I didn’t “know” Joe, I would have thought someone with his perceptive qualities and understanding of humans, should know not to keep the sort of information he does hidden as it will only cast more suspicion in him – which it does with devastating results.

Likewise, Ruiz is such an arse. Hostile from the outset, he really is incredibly unlovable and difficult to reconcile with the person he later becomes. I didn’t struggle with him as much as Joe, however, and enjoyed discovering the early stages of their relationship which, in many ways, functions as bromance – boy meets boy, boy hates boy, boy loves boy.

These are very picky complaints and, as I’ve noted, only arise because I read the books front to back (so to speak). Overall, it’s such a tremendous read and again, kept me awake far too late and is, I suspect (pun intentded) responsible for the shadows under my eyes.

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Book Review: Bleed For Me, Michael Robotham

Once gain, Michael Robotham has managed to write a nail biting, chilling and considered thriller that explores family dysfunction, race-hate, misguided loyalty and the capacity some adults have to abuse their positions in society and families.

Centering on psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, our Parkinson-suffering psychologist, who’s separated from Julieanne, and doing the parenting juggle and his best to cope with his deterioration and be amiable as  his wife finds her dating feet again, crime doesn’t simply brush the O’Loughlin family in this novel, but enters the front door.

When a friend of Joe’s eldest daughter, Charlie, an attractive fourteen year old, Sienna, is found covered in blood and her father, a former policeman, Ray Hegarty, murdered, family secrets are dredged up and the whole notion of the public versus the private person/a explored.

When all evidence points to Sienna’s guilt, only Joe seems able to read between the lines, looks and unspoken language to understand that something sinister is happening, not just within Sienna’s family, but potentially, her and his daughter’s school as well. Combine this with Julieanne’s involvement in a high-profile race trail, child-sex workers and the lengths people will go to in order to keep secrets for personal gain, and Robotham once again creates an explosive story that prevented me from sleeping until I finished the book.

The langue is sparse, tight; the dialogue fires from the page, constructing realistic and tortured characters – especially the villains who make you tremble – for the characters they interact with and who you know are vulnerable to their machinations. This novel also explores the notion of loyalty, the capacity for abuse that some people in positions of power can wield, and the price of blackmail. I particularly enjoy Joe’s insights and the way he treats the body as a text, unpacking meaning in language, actions and interactions. His mind is his greatest weapon, his tongue how he wields it. Such an ethical and morally interesting person, is Joe O’Loughlin, someone who is always questioning not only other people’s motives, but his own as well.

Against this backdrop, Robotham still manages to explore the family dynamics of the O’Loughlins – with deft and gentle strokes, we feel Joe’s loneliness, Julieanne’s regrets and determination not to acknowledge them and the children’s love for both their parents.

This is a powerful and disturbing book that’s a powerful addition to Robotham’s canon.

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