The Suspect (Joseph O'Loughlin Series #1)

( 14 )

Overview

A new edition of the novel that marked the debut of one of contemporary suspense fiction's most compelling heroes: "A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving." —Washington Post

Renowned psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin has it all—a thriving practice, a devoted, beautiful, fiercely intelligent wife, and a lovely young daughter. But when he's diagnosed with Parkinson's, O'Loughlin begins to dread the way his exceptional mind has been shackled ...

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The Suspect (Joseph O'Loughlin Series #1)

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Overview

A new edition of the novel that marked the debut of one of contemporary suspense fiction's most compelling heroes: "A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving." —Washington Post

Renowned psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin has it all—a thriving practice, a devoted, beautiful, fiercely intelligent wife, and a lovely young daughter. But when he's diagnosed with Parkinson's, O'Loughlin begins to dread the way his exceptional mind has been shackled to a failing body, and the cracks in his perfect existence start to show.

At first, O'Loughlin is delighted to be called in to a high-profile murder investigation, hoping his extraordinary abilities at perception will help bring a killer to justice. But when O'Loughlin recognizes the victim as one of his former patients, an emotionally disturbed young woman who nearly brought ruin upon him, O'Loughlin hesitates-a fateful decision that soon places O'Loughlin at the top of the lists of both a bullish detective, and a diabolical killer

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving."—Washington Post

"One of those rare literary gems: a beautifully written thriller that is both moving and relentlessly suspenseful."—Tess Gerritsen

"A dramatic, well-written debut."—New York Times

"Lightning-paced."—Entertainment Weekly

"Terrific....a classic 'wrong man' thriller that puts its hero in hot water, then raises the Fahrenheit to a fever pitch....Robotham not only builds the suspense masterfully but tops it off with a stunning twist."—
People

Entertainment Weekly
"Lightning-paced."
New York Times
"A dramatic, well-written debut."
Washington Post
"A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving."
People

"Terrific....a classic 'wrong man' thriller that puts its hero in hot water, then raises the Fahrenheit to a fever pitch....Robotham not only builds the suspense masterfully but tops it off with a stunning twist."
Tess Gerritsen
"One of those rare literary gems: a beautifully written thriller that is both moving and relentlessly suspenseful."
From the Publisher
"A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving."—Washington Post

"One of those rare literary gems: a beautifully written thriller that is both moving and relentlessly suspenseful."—Tess Gerritsen

"A dramatic, well-written debut."—New York Times

"Lightning-paced."—Entertainment Weekly

"Terrific....a classic 'wrong man' thriller that puts its hero in hot water, then raises the Fahrenheit to a fever pitch....Robotham not only builds the suspense masterfully but tops it off with a stunning twist."—
People

Patrick Anderson
The plot is not a new one -- Respectable Citizen Wrongly Accused -- but Michael Robotham handles it with unusual skill as he has us suspecting one person and then another.
— The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
There's usually some plot loophole in a suspense novel that takes the fun out of it. The protagonist of Michael Robotham's first novel, Suspect, a London psychiatrist named Joe O'Loughlin, refuses to divulge a perfectly good alibi and goes on the lam when one of his former patients is killed in a peculiarly gruesome manner. But, for once, the flawed logic doesn't sink the pleasantly creepy story, which is plotted with precision and narrated with real intelligence by the doctor, whose decision to keep mum on a serious medical condition of his own makes him look suspicious -- and leaves him vulnerable when the real murderer shows up. The thing about shrinks is, they may know it all, but they just have to make it complicated.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Joe O'Loughlin, a London psychologist, loves his job and loves his family-wife Julianne and eight-year-old daughter Charlie-even more in Australian author Robotham's well-written, if somewhat convoluted, debut suspense novel. O'Loughlin's life takes two disastrous turns: first, he's diagnosed with Parkinson's disease; second, while helping Det. Insp. Vincent Ruiz on the case of a murdered nurse, Catherine Mary McBride, he becomes the primary suspect in the killing. The crime occurred close to O'Loughlin's London home, giving him opportunity, and it turns out that McBride had been his patient and had accused him of harassment, giving him plenty of motive. Vivid characters mostly avoid stereotype, while a fast and furious last section makes up for a wealth of asides and anecdotes that, however effectively done, slow the narrative. More seriously, the book can't decide whether it's a psychological mystery or a conspiracy thriller and strains credibility well past the breaking point. Still, Robotham shows real promise, putting a fresh spin on the familiar crime fiction trope of the falsely accused man. Agent, Mark Lucas at Lucas Alexander Whitley. (Feb. 1) Forecast: A bestseller in Australia and the U.K., and an international BOMC, Mystery Guild, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club main selection, this title may have a tougher time hitting the bestseller lists here. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Professor Joseph O'Loughlin, a London psychologist in his forties, is leading a comfortable existence with his wife and eight-year-old daughter when his personal and professional lives come apart. Responding to a detective's request to do some psychological profiling on a murder victim, O'Loughlin finds that the deceased is a former patient-a fact that he initially withholds from the police, citing doctor/patient confidentiality. After he reveals the truth to a now antagonistic and mistrustful detective, the police focus their suspicions on him, and the more he delves into the investigation, the more he manages to implicate himself. To complicate matters, O'Loughlin has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and his reaction to this sobering news has placed a strain on his marriage. This fast-paced thriller, with twists and turns reminiscent of The Fugitive, makes for a quick and satisfying read. Though this is Australian Robotham's first novel, he has ghostwritten 14 biographies and is a former journalist (which may account for the precision of his writing). Strongly recommended for most popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/04; a best seller in Britain, Holland, and Australia, Suspect is a main selection of the BOMC, Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, and Doubleday Book Club.-Ed.]-Caroline Mann, Univ. of Portland Lib., OR Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British journalist/ghostwriter Robotham's first novel is a masterful riff on I Confess with a psychologist substituting for the embattled priest. Professor Joe O'Laughlin is shocked to hear about the murder of Catherine Mary McBride, the Liverpool nurse he'd treated for self-mutilation who responded by coming on to him and crying rape. He's even more disturbed when he realizes that one of his current patients, Bobby Moran, fits DI Vincent Ruiz's description of the sadistic killer. Bobby's nightmares and violent behavior, together with compelling circumstantial evidence, make Joe itch to share his suspicions with Ruiz despite his secular priesthood's promise of confidentiality, and eventually he gives in. But it's already too late: Ruiz, pointing to baffling discrepancies in Joe's description of Bobby and Joe's lack of alibi for the fatal night, arrests Joe for murder. So far, so predictable-especially the hoary reason Joe can't say where he was when Catherine was killed. When Joe turns detective in order to save his skin, however, his narrative takes off, for he's both desperate and drastically competent, fully a match for the demon bent on destroying his livelihood, his family, his home and his life. Readers will forget their own jobs, meals and families while they race to find out which one of his targets the killer actually hits before he's brought down. Agent: Mark Lucas/Lucas Alexander Whitley LTD.; Book-of-the-Month Club/Mystery Guild/Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club main selection
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316252256
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/15/2014
  • Series: Joseph O'Loughlin Series , #1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 131,869
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Robotham has been an investigative journalist in Britain, Australia and the US. One of world's most acclaimed authors of thriller fiction, he lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

1

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 TV aerials. It's like that scene from Mary Poppins where all the chimney sweeps dance across the rooftops twirling their brooms.

From up here I can just see the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On a clear day I could probably see all the way to Hampstead Heath, although I doubt if the air in London ever gets that clear.

"This is some view," I say, glancing to my right at a teenager crouched about ten feet away. His name is Malcolm and he's seventeen today. Tall and thin, with dark eyes that tremble when he looks at me, he has skin as white as polished paper. He is wearing pajamas and a woolen hat to cover his baldness. Chemotherapy is a cruel hairdresser.

The temperature is three degrees Celsius, but the wind chill has chased it below zero. Already my fingers are numb and I can barely feel my toes through my shoes and socks. Malcolm's feet are bare.

I won't reach him if he jumps or falls. Even if I stretch out and lean along the gutter, I will still be six feet short of catching him. He realizes that. He's worked out the angles. According to his oncologist, Malcolm has an exceptional IQ. He plays the violin and speaks five languages—none of which he'll speak to me.

For the last hour I've been asking him questions and telling him stories. I know he can hear me, but my voice is just background noise. He's concentrating on his own internal dialogue, debating whether he should live or die. I want to join that debate, but first I need an invitation.

The National Health Service has a whole raft of guidelines for dealing with hostage situations and threatened suicides. A critical incident team has been pulled together, including senior members of staff, police and a psychologist—me. The first priority has been to learn everything we can about Malcolm that might help us identify what has driven him to this. Doctors, nurses and patients are being interviewed, along with his friends and family.

The primary negotiator is at the apex of the operational triangle. Everything filters down to me. That's why I'm out here, freezing my extremities off, while they're inside drinking coffee, interviewing staff and studying flip charts.
What do I know about Malcolm? He has a primary brain tumor in the right posterior temporal region, dangerously close to his brain stem. The tumor has left him partially paralyzed down his left side and unable to hear from one ear. He is two weeks into a second course of chemotherapy.

He had a visit from his parents this morning. The oncologist had good news. Malcolm's tumor appeared to be shrinking. An hour later Malcolm wrote a two-word note that said, "I'm sorry." He left his room and managed to crawl onto the roof through a dormer window on the fourth floor. Someone must have left the window unlocked, or he found a way of opening it.

There you have it—the sum total of my knowledge about a teenager who has a lot more to offer than most kids his age. I don't know if he has a girlfriend, or a favorite football team, or a celluloid hero. I know more about his disease than I do about him. That's why I'm struggling.

My safety harness is uncomfortable under my sweater. It looks like one of those contraptions that parents strap on to toddlers to stop them running off. In this case it's supposed to save me if I fall, as long as someone has remembered to tie off the other end. It might sound ridiculous, but that's the sort of detail that sometimes gets forgotten in a crisis. Perhaps I should shuffle back toward the window and ask someone to check. Would that be unprofessional? Yes. Sensible? Again yes.

The rooftop is speckled with pigeon droppings and the slate tiles are covered in lichen and moss. The patterns look like fossilized plants pressed into the stone, but the effect is slick and treacherous.

"This probably makes no difference, Malcolm, but I think I know a little about how you're feeling," I say, trying once more to reach him. "I have a disease too. I'm not saying that it's cancer. It's not. And trying to make comparisons is like mixing apples with oranges, but we're still talking about fruit, right?"

The receiver in my right ear begins to crackle. "What in Christ's name are you doing?" says a voice. "Stop talking about fruit salad and get him inside!"

I take the earpiece out and let it dangle on my shoulder.

"You know how people always say, 'It'll be fine. Everything is going to be OK'? They say that because they can't think of anything else. I don't know what to say either, Malcolm. I don't even know what questions to ask.
"Most people don't know how to handle someone else's disease. Unfortunately, there's no book of etiquette or list of dos and don'ts. You either get the watery-eyed, I-can't-bear-it-I'm-going-to-cry look or forced jokiness and buck-up speeches. The other option is complete denial."

Malcolm hasn't responded. He's staring across the rooftops as if looking out of a tiny window high up in the gray sky. His pajamas are thin and white with blue stitching around the cuffs and collar.

Between my knees I can see three fire engines, two ambulances and half a dozen police cars. One of the fire engines has an extension ladder on a turntable. I haven't taken much notice of it until now, but I see it slowly turning and begin to slide upward. Why would they be doing that? At the same moment, Malcolm braces his back against the sloping roof and lifts himself. He squats on the edge, with his toes hanging over the gutter, like a bird perched on a branch.

I can hear someone screaming and then I realize that it's me. I'm yelling the place down. I'm wildly gesticulating for them to get the ladder away. I look like the suicidal jumper and Malcolm looks totally calm.

I fumble for the earpiece and hear pandemonium inside. The critical incident team is shouting at the chief fire officer, who is shouting at his second-in-command, who is shouting at someone else.

"Don't do it, Malcolm! Wait!" I sound desperate. "Look at the ladder. It's going down. See? It's going down." Blood is pounding in my ears. He stays perched on the edge, curling and uncurling his toes. In profile I can see his long dark lashes blinking slowly. His heart is beating like a bird's within his narrow chest.

"You see that fireman down there with the red helmet?" I say, trying to break into his thoughts. "The one with all the brass buttons on his shoulders. What do you think my chances are of spitting on his helmet from here?"

For the briefest of moments, Malcolm glances down. It's the first time he's acknowledged anything I've said or done. The door has opened a crack.

"Some people like to spit watermelon seeds or cherry pits. In Africa they spit dung, which is pretty gross. I read somewhere that the world record for spitting Kudu dung is about thirty feet. I think Kudu is a kind of antelope but don't quote me on that. I prefer good old-fashioned saliva and it's not about distance; it's about accuracy."

He's looking at me now. With a snap of my head I send a foaming white ball arcing downward. It gets picked up by the breeze and drifts to the right, hitting the windshield of a police car. In silence I contemplate the shot, trying to work out where I went wrong.

"You didn't allow for the wind," Malcolm says.

I nod sagely, barely acknowledging him, but inside I have a warm glow in a part of me that isn't yet frozen.

"You're right. These buildings create a bit of a wind tunnel."

"You're making excuses."

"I haven't seen you try."

He looks down, considering this. He's hugging his knees as if trying to stay warm. It's a good sign.

A moment later a globule of spit curves outward and falls. Together we watch it descend, almost willing it to stay on course. It hits a TV reporter squarely between the eyes and Malcolm and I groan in harmony.

My next shot lands harmlessly on the front steps. Malcolm asks if he can change the target. He wants to hit the TV reporter again.

"Shame we don't have any water bombs," he says, resting his chin on one knee.

"If you could drop a water bomb on anyone in the world, who would it be?"

"My parents."

"Why?"

"I don't want to have chemo again. I've had enough." He doesn't elaborate. It isn't necessary. There aren't many treatments with worse side effects than chemotherapy. The vomiting, nausea, constipation, anemia and overwhelming fatigue can be intolerable.

"What does your oncologist say?"

"He says the tumor is shrinking."

"That's good."

He laughs wryly. "They said that last time. The truth is they're just chasing cancer all around my body. It doesn't go away. It just finds somewhere else to hide. They never talk about a cure; they talk about remission. Sometimes they don't talk to me at all. They just whisper to my parents." He bites his bottom lip and a carmine mark appears where the blood rushes to the indentation.

"Mum and Dad think I'm scared of dying, but I'm not scared. You should see some of the kids in this place. At least I've had a life. Another fifty years would be nice, but like I said, I'm not scared."

"How many more chemo sessions?"

"Six. Then we wait and see. I don't mind losing my hair. A lot of footballers shave their hair off. Look at David Beckham; he's a wanker, but he's a wicked player. Having no eyebrows is a bit of a blow."

"I hear Beckham gets his plucked."

"By Posh?"

"Yeah."

It almost raises a smile. In the silence I can hear Malcolm's teeth chattering.

"If the chemo doesn't work my parents are going to tell the doctors to keep trying. They'll never let me go."

"You're old enough to make your own decisions."

"Try telling them that."

"I will if you want me to."

He shakes his head and I see the tears starting to form. He tries to stop them, but they squeeze out from under his long lashes in fat drops that he wipes away with his forearm.

"Is there someone you can talk to?"

"I like one of the nurses. She's been really nice to me."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

He blushes. The paleness of his skin makes it look as though his head is filling with blood.

"Why don't you come inside and we'll talk some more? I can't raise another spit unless I get something to drink."

He doesn't answer, but I see his shoulders sag. He's listening to that internal dialogue again.

"I have a daughter called Charlie who is eight years old," I say, trying to hold him. "I remember when she was about four, we were in the park and I was pushing her on a swing. She said to me, 'Daddy, do you know that if you close your eyes really tightly, so you see white stars, when you open them again it's a brand-new world?' It's a nice thought, isn't it?"

"But it's not true."

"It can be."

"Only if you pretend."

"Why not? What's stopping you? People think it's easy to be cynical and pessimistic, but it's incredibly hard work. It's much easier to be hopeful."

"I have an inoperable brain tumor," he says incredulously.

"Yes, I know."

I wonder if my words sound as hollow to Malcolm as they do to me. I used to believe all this stuff. A lot can change in ten days.

Malcolm interrupts me. "Are you a doctor?"

"A psychologist."

"Tell me again why should I come down?"

"Because it's cold and it's dangerous and I've seen what people look like when they fall from buildings. Come inside. Let's get warm."

He glances below at the carnival of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and media vans. "I won the spitting contest."

"Yes you did."

"You'll talk to Mum and Dad?"

"Absolutely."

He tries to stand, but his legs are cold and stiff. The paralysis down his left side makes his arm next to useless. He needs two arms to get up.

"Just stay there. I'll get them to send up the ladder."

"No!" he says urgently. I see the look on his face. He doesn't want to be brought down in the blaze of TV lights, with reporters asking questions.

"OK. I'll come to you." I'm amazed at how brave that sounds. I start to slide sideways in a bum shuffle—too frightened to stand. I haven't forgotten about the safety harness, but I'm still convinced that nobody has bothered to tie it off.

As I edge along the gutter, my head fills with images of what could go wrong. If this were a Hollywood movie Malcolm would slip at the last moment and I'd dive and pluck him out of midair. Either that or I'd fall and he'd rescue me.
On the other hand—because this is real life—we might both perish, or Malcolm could live and I'd be the plucky rescuer who plunges to his death.

Although he hasn't moved, I can see a new emotion in his eyes. A few minutes ago he was ready to step off the roof without a moment's hesitation. Now he wants to live and the void beneath his feet has become an abyss.

The American philosopher William James (a closet phobic) wrote an article in 1884 pondering the nature of fear. He used an example of a person encountering a bear. Does he run because he feels afraid, or does he feel afraid after he has already started running? In other words, does a person have time to think something is frightening, or does the reaction precede the thought?

Ever since then scientists and psychologists have been locked in a kind of chicken-and-egg debate. What comes first—the conscious awareness of fear or the pounding heart and surging adrenaline that motivates us to fight or flight?
I know the answer now, but I'm so frightened I've forgotten the question.

I'm only a few feet away from Malcolm. His cheeks are tinged with blue and he's stopped shivering. Pressing my back against the wall, I push one leg beneath me and lever my body upward until I'm standing.

Malcolm looks at my outstretched hand for a moment and then reaches slowly toward me. I grab him by the wrist and pull him upward until my arm slips around his thin waist. His skin feels like ice.

The front of the safety harness unclasps and I can lengthen the straps. I pass them around his waist and back through the buckle, until the two of us are tethered together. His woolen hat feels rough against my cheek.

"What do you want me to do?" he asks, in a croaky voice.

"You can pray the other end of this is tied on to something."

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

1


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 TV aerials. It's like that scene from Mary Poppins where all the chimney sweeps dance across the rooftops twirling their brooms.

From up here I can just see the dome of the Royal Albert Hall. On a clear day I could probably see all the way to Hampstead Heath, although I doubt if the air in London ever gets that clear.

"This is some view," I say, glancing to my right at a teenager crouched about ten feet away. His name is Malcolm and he's seventeen today. Tall and thin, with dark eyes that tremble when he looks at me, he has skin as white as polished paper. He is wearing pajamas and a woolen hat to cover his baldness. Chemotherapy is a cruel hairdresser.

The temperature is three degrees Celsius, but the wind chill has chased it below zero. Already my fingers are numb and I can barely feel my toes through my shoes and socks. Malcolm's feet are bare.

I won't reach him if he jumps or falls. Even if I stretch out and lean along the gutter, I will still be six feet short of catching him. He realizes that. He's worked out the angles. According to his oncologist, Malcolm has an exceptional IQ. He plays the violin and speaks five languages—none of which he'll speak to me.

For the last hour I've been asking him questions and telling him stories. I know he can hear me, but my voice is just background noise. He's concentrating on his own internal dialogue, debating whether he should live or die. I want to join that debate, but first I need an invitation.

The National Health Service has a whole raftof guidelines for dealing with hostage situations and threatened suicides. A critical incident team has been pulled together, including senior members of staff, police and a psychologist—me. The first priority has been to learn everything we can about Malcolm that might help us identify what has driven him to this. Doctors, nurses and patients are being interviewed, along with his friends and family.

The primary negotiator is at the apex of the operational triangle. Everything filters down to me. That's why I'm out here, freezing my extremities off, while they're inside drinking coffee, interviewing staff and studying flip charts.
What do I know about Malcolm? He has a primary brain tumor in the right posterior temporal region, dangerously close to his brain stem. The tumor has left him partially paralyzed down his left side and unable to hear from one ear. He is two weeks into a second course of chemotherapy.

He had a visit from his parents this morning. The oncologist had good news. Malcolm's tumor appeared to be shrinking. An hour later Malcolm wrote a two-word note that said, "I'm sorry." He left his room and managed to crawl onto the roof through a dormer window on the fourth floor. Someone must have left the window unlocked, or he found a way of opening it.

There you have it—the sum total of my knowledge about a teenager who has a lot more to offer than most kids his age. I don't know if he has a girlfriend, or a favorite football team, or a celluloid hero. I know more about his disease than I do about him. That's why I'm struggling.


My safety harness is uncomfortable under my sweater. It looks like one of those contraptions that parents strap on to toddlers to stop them running off. In this case it's supposed to save me if I fall, as long as someone has remembered to tie off the other end. It might sound ridiculous, but that's the sort of detail that sometimes gets forgotten in a crisis. Perhaps I should shuffle back toward the window and ask someone to check. Would that be unprofessional? Yes. Sensible? Again yes.

The rooftop is speckled with pigeon droppings and the slate tiles are covered in lichen and moss. The patterns look like fossilized plants pressed into the stone, but the effect is slick and treacherous.

"This probably makes no difference, Malcolm, but I think I know a little about how you're feeling," I say, trying once more to reach him. "I have a disease too. I'm not saying that it's cancer. It's not. And trying to make comparisons is like mixing apples with oranges, but we're still talking about fruit, right?"

The receiver in my right ear begins to crackle. "What in Christ's name are you doing?" says a voice. "Stop talking about fruit salad and get him inside!"

I take the earpiece out and let it dangle on my shoulder.

"You know how people always say, 'It'll be fine. Everything is going to be OK'? They say that because they can't think of anything else. I don't know what to say either, Malcolm. I don't even know what questions to ask.
"Most people don't know how to handle someone else's disease. Unfortunately, there's no book of etiquette or list of dos and don'ts. You either get the watery-eyed, I-can't-bear-it-I'm-going-to-cry look or forced jokiness and buck-up speeches. The other option is complete denial."

Malcolm hasn't responded. He's staring across the rooftops as if looking out of a tiny window high up in the gray sky. His pajamas are thin and white with blue stitching around the cuffs and collar.

Between my knees I can see three fire engines, two ambulances and half a dozen police cars. One of the fire engines has an extension ladder on a turntable. I haven't taken much notice of it until now, but I see it slowly turning and begin to slide upward. Why would they be doing that? At the same moment, Malcolm braces his back against the sloping roof and lifts himself. He squats on the edge, with his toes hanging over the gutter, like a bird perched on a branch.

I can hear someone screaming and then I realize that it's me. I'm yelling the place down. I'm wildly gesticulating for them to get the ladder away. I look like the suicidal jumper and Malcolm looks totally calm.

I fumble for the earpiece and hear pandemonium inside. The critical incident team is shouting at the chief fire officer, who is shouting at his second-in-command, who is shouting at someone else.

"Don't do it, Malcolm! Wait!" I sound desperate. "Look at the ladder. It's going down. See? It's going down." Blood is pounding in my ears. He stays perched on the edge, curling and uncurling his toes. In profile I can see his long dark lashes blinking slowly. His heart is beating like a bird's within his narrow chest.

"You see that fireman down there with the red helmet?" I say, trying to break into his thoughts. "The one with all the brass buttons on his shoulders. What do you think my chances are of spitting on his helmet from here?"

For the briefest of moments, Malcolm glances down. It's the first time he's acknowledged anything I've said or done. The door has opened a crack.

"Some people like to spit watermelon seeds or cherry pits. In Africa they spit dung, which is pretty gross. I read somewhere that the world record for spitting Kudu dung is about thirty feet. I think Kudu is a kind of antelope but don't quote me on that. I prefer good old-fashioned saliva and it's not about distance; it's about accuracy."

He's looking at me now. With a snap of my head I send a foaming white ball arcing downward. It gets picked up by the breeze and drifts to the right, hitting the windshield of a police car. In silence I contemplate the shot, trying to work out where I went wrong.

"You didn't allow for the wind," Malcolm says.

I nod sagely, barely acknowledging him, but inside I have a warm glow in a part of me that isn't yet frozen.

"You're right. These buildings create a bit of a wind tunnel."

"You're making excuses."

"I haven't seen you try."

He looks down, considering this. He's hugging his knees as if trying to stay warm. It's a good sign.

A moment later a globule of spit curves outward and falls. Together we watch it descend, almost willing it to stay on course. It hits a TV reporter squarely between the eyes and Malcolm and I groan in harmony.

My next shot lands harmlessly on the front steps. Malcolm asks if he can change the target. He wants to hit the TV reporter again.

"Shame we don't have any water bombs," he says, resting his chin on one knee.

"If you could drop a water bomb on anyone in the world, who would it be?"

"My parents."

"Why?"

"I don't want to have chemo again. I've had enough." He doesn't elaborate. It isn't necessary. There aren't many treatments with worse side effects than chemotherapy. The vomiting, nausea, constipation, anemia and overwhelming fatigue can be intolerable.

"What does your oncologist say?"

"He says the tumor is shrinking."

"That's good."

He laughs wryly. "They said that last time. The truth is they're just chasing cancer all around my body. It doesn't go away. It just finds somewhere else to hide. They never talk about a cure; they talk about remission. Sometimes they don't talk to me at all. They just whisper to my parents." He bites his bottom lip and a carmine mark appears where the blood rushes to the indentation.

"Mum and Dad think I'm scared of dying, but I'm not scared. You should see some of the kids in this place. At least I've had a life. Another fifty years would be nice, but like I said, I'm not scared."

"How many more chemo sessions?"

"Six. Then we wait and see. I don't mind losing my hair. A lot of footballers shave their hair off. Look at David Beckham; he's a wanker, but he's a wicked player. Having no eyebrows is a bit of a blow."

"I hear Beckham gets his plucked."

"By Posh?"

"Yeah."

It almost raises a smile. In the silence I can hear Malcolm's teeth chattering.

"If the chemo doesn't work my parents are going to tell the doctors to keep trying. They'll never let me go."

"You're old enough to make your own decisions."

"Try telling them that."

"I will if you want me to."

He shakes his head and I see the tears starting to form. He tries to stop them, but they squeeze out from under his long lashes in fat drops that he wipes away with his forearm.

"Is there someone you can talk to?"

"I like one of the nurses. She's been really nice to me."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

He blushes. The paleness of his skin makes it look as though his head is filling with blood.

"Why don't you come inside and we'll talk some more? I can't raise another spit unless I get something to drink."

He doesn't answer, but I see his shoulders sag. He's listening to that internal dialogue again.

"I have a daughter called Charlie who is eight years old," I say, trying to hold him. "I remember when she was about four, we were in the park and I was pushing her on a swing. She said to me, 'Daddy, do you know that if you close your eyes really tightly, so you see white stars, when you open them again it's a brand-new world?' It's a nice thought, isn't it?"

"But it's not true."

"It can be."

"Only if you pretend."

"Why not? What's stopping you? People think it's easy to be cynical and pessimistic, but it's incredibly hard work. It's much easier to be hopeful."

"I have an inoperable brain tumor," he says incredulously.

"Yes, I know."

I wonder if my words sound as hollow to Malcolm as they do to me. I used to believe all this stuff. A lot can change in ten days.

Malcolm interrupts me. "Are you a doctor?"

"A psychologist."

"Tell me again why should I come down?"

"Because it's cold and it's dangerous and I've seen what people look like when they fall from buildings. Come inside. Let's get warm."

He glances below at the carnival of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and media vans. "I won the spitting contest."

"Yes you did."

"You'll talk to Mum and Dad?"

"Absolutely."

He tries to stand, but his legs are cold and stiff. The paralysis down his left side makes his arm next to useless. He needs two arms to get up.

"Just stay there. I'll get them to send up the ladder."

"No!" he says urgently. I see the look on his face. He doesn't want to be brought down in the blaze of TV lights, with reporters asking questions.

"OK. I'll come to you." I'm amazed at how brave that sounds. I start to slide sideways in a bum shuffle—too frightened to stand. I haven't forgotten about the safety harness, but I'm still convinced that nobody has bothered to tie it off.

As I edge along the gutter, my head fills with images of what could go wrong. If this were a Hollywood movie Malcolm would slip at the last moment and I'd dive and pluck him out of midair. Either that or I'd fall and he'd rescue me.
On the other hand—because this is real life—we might both perish, or Malcolm could live and I'd be the plucky rescuer who plunges to his death.

Although he hasn't moved, I can see a new emotion in his eyes. A few minutes ago he was ready to step off the roof without a moment's hesitation. Now he wants to live and the void beneath his feet has become an abyss.

The American philosopher William James (a closet phobic) wrote an article in 1884 pondering the nature of fear. He used an example of a person encountering a bear. Does he run because he feels afraid, or does he feel afraid after he has already started running? In other words, does a person have time to think something is frightening, or does the reaction precede the thought?

Ever since then scientists and psychologists have been locked in a kind of chicken-and-egg debate. What comes first—the conscious awareness of fear or the pounding heart and surging adrenaline that motivates us to fight or flight?
I know the answer now, but I'm so frightened I've forgotten the question.

I'm only a few feet away from Malcolm. His cheeks are tinged with blue and he's stopped shivering. Pressing my back against the wall, I push one leg beneath me and lever my body upward until I'm standing.

Malcolm looks at my outstretched hand for a moment and then reaches slowly toward me. I grab him by the wrist and pull him upward until my arm slips around his thin waist. His skin feels like ice.

The front of the safety harness unclasps and I can lengthen the straps. I pass them around his waist and back through the buckle, until the two of us are tethered together. His woolen hat feels rough against my cheek.

"What do you want me to do?" he asks, in a croaky voice.

"You can pray the other end of this is tied on to something."
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

Ransom Notes Interview with Michael RobothamMichael Robotham: A lot of writers will tell you that the idea for a story comes from a "what if" moment. Mine came when I was chatting to a social worker in the North of England. She had just taken a newborn baby away from a young woman whom a judge had ruled incapable of looking after the child. 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? Ransom Notes: What is the biggest difference for you between writing fiction and working as a journalist and ghostwriter? MR: Writing fiction is a lot harder than I expected. Instead of having a wealth of material at my fingertips, I have to start from scratch, inventing everything. I love the freedom of writing fiction, but sometimes it feels like I'm standing naked on a high wire above Niagara Falls with everything hanging out in the breeze. RN: What made you decide to make your protagonist a psychologist, rather than an investigator? MR: I'm fascinated by the human mind. When Mozart wrote his symphonies, when Hitler ordered the Final Solution, when a serial killer murders young girls, or when a teenage mother abandons her baby in a rubbish bin -- it all comes back to some aspect of human behavior. When Joe O'Loughlin looks at a crime scene, he isn't searching for physical clues. He's seeing the "mind trace" left behind. He picks up things the police miss and, more important, he understands not just what happened but why. Joe has an amazing ability to sum people up very quickly. Normally, this is his greatest strength; but once he becomes a suspect and is put under pressure, he begins to doubt his abilities and miss clues. Suspect is a modern-day fable of a man consumed by a simple mistake that snowballs out of control. Many people in our society -- doctors, lawyers, judges, and psychologists -- play god with other people's lives. They do so, for the most part, with the best possible intentions. But what if they're wrong? RN: Why did you use Parkinson's disease to throw Joe's life out of balance?MR: Joe O'Loughlin had a perfect life, with a beautiful wife, a clever daughter, and a brilliant career. I know that the diagnosis of early-onset Parkinson's disease, on top of everything else he's facing in Suspect, 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 can't hold a gun without his hand shaking. He has to think his way out.RN: Can you tell us anything about your future writing plans? MR: My second novel will be published early next year [2006]. Detective Vincent Ruiz (introduced in Suspect) comes under investigation and is accused of faking amnesia in a case of a missing girl and a missing ransom. His only hope of unraveling the puzzle is to relive his lost night, with Joe's help. I am always happy to hear from readers. They can keep in touch and get regular updates on new releases and public appearances through my web site, www.michaelrobotham.com.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2010

    A good read for the mystery lover

    Michael Robotham was unknown to me until I read this book. this was a book that I considered very well done. The characters are believable. The book was enjoyable and kept you reading until the end.

    I consider it a very good read.

    J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the 'Isms'"

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2005

    Great Read

    Great plot this book kept a steady pace throughout the story. I would recomend this to anyone who likes a great 'who done it' mystery. It definately keeps you guessing.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2005

    Like a locamotive

    This book was like a train, slow to start but once it gets a full head of steam it is hard to stop. A very good read and very unpredictable.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2005

    Cant put it down

    It took me a couple chapters to get going, but after that, I just couldn't stop reading. The plot twisted and I really wasn't sure who did it, but the end was shocking.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 6, 2014

    Excellent

    Great characterization. You felt like you were in the story.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Not downloading

    I really wanna read this book but it keeps saying the book is not available. Anybody else have this problem

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2006

    No Suspect in the Plot Department

    I really liked this book. Sometimes the references in English novels can be obscure to an America, but not so with this book. Character development was good and the the plot was engrossing. I'd read him again.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    Good story, Great writing!

    Definitely found this book to be a page-turner and I'll have to admit, I was caught off guard in the end --- didn't guess it. Hope to hear more from Michael Robotham in the mystery category --- great job!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2005

    Great Read

    The book I admit starts out a little slow. But when it picks up, you won't be able to put it down. It doesn't end like you'll think. A must read!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2014

    Very enjoyable read. Fast paced with lots of plot turns. Looki

    Very enjoyable read. Fast paced with lots of plot turns. Looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 24, 2014

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