Fiona Barton's 'The Suspect' Is an Intense Mystery Pulled from Real Life

The best-selling author, who wrote her debut novel at 60, draws inspiration from her own 30-year journalism career for the new thriller.

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Welcome to's Q&A; author seriesthe spot where we ask the #ReadWithMC author-of-the-month five burning questions about her latest book. In February, we're reading The Suspect by award-winning author Fiona Barton. If you're interested in the novel and looking for some friends to talk about it with, find out how to participate in's new interactive monthly book club here.

After working as a reporter for 30 years, Fiona Barton isn't afraid of an empty page. In fact, Barton, 62, admits the shift from journalist to novelist "should have been harder." She left the journalism field in 2008 to pursue volunteer opportunities in Sri Lanka and Myanmar with journalists facing exile in their home countries, which allowed her to take a step back from daily reporting, sit down, and start writing fiction. Thus, The Widow (2016) and The Child (2017) were born, along with her newest thriller, The Suspect

"Reporters are reliant on other people’s words and ideas," explains Barton. "I had to tell myself to let go of that and allow myself to invent. I’ve met so many people over the years from all backgrounds and walks of life who I can draw from when I'm doing that."

Barton continues to live through The Suspect's main character, journalist Kate Waters, who she has written about in her previous books. (Don't worry, you don't have to have read them to love this one—the novel stands alone.) When two 18-year-old women go missing in Thailand, Waters is reminded of her own son who left home two years prior and has barely made contact since. The twisty plot follows the case of the missing girls, and how Waters' professional reporting quickly becomes personal.

Here, the best-selling author reflects on how her career helped the thriller come to life, and why it's important for readers to see themselves in her work.

Marie Claire: What inspired you to write The Suspect?

Fiona Barton: I was fascinated to see what it would be like on the other side—to be the story rather than the reporter. There has been a lot of trouble for the media in the U.K., like prosecutions of journalists who have acted illegally, and it got me thinking what it must be like for them. Even now, the media is under such immense attack. With the main character, Kate, she knows exactly what’s going on (like a doctor who gets sick and becomes the patient), but it won't be any easier for her.

MC: Why should people read this book now?

FB: There's an element of social media in the story that's very timely. I wanted to look at how people portray themselves online—as more clever, prettier, luckier in love—and the trouble it can lead to. There’s a terrible pressure for everybody to be a better version of themselves. I used that as a plot line because I think it’s something that needs to be addressed.

My stories are about ordinary people that have extraordinary things happen to them.

MC: If you could be one character in the book, who would you be?

FB: Kate is like coming home when I’m writing her. We don’t share DNA, we’re not the same person, but I do know her very well. I’ve met and worked with a lot of Kate’s throughout my career. So, I suppose she’s the person I’d be most comfortable with.

MC: Who would play the main characters in a movie? Cast your protagonist and antagonist.

FB: I’d actually like unknown people to play the characters because my stories are about ordinary people that have extraordinary things happen to them. Readers tell me it’s that ordinary-ness that attracts them to my books—that this could happen to them. I would let Brad Pitt play whatever part he wanted so I can meet him, but often well-known actors and actresses come with baggage. You constantly think, Weren’t they great in that other movie? It adds an edge and a different perspective to a drama when you don’t know them.

MC: What’s currently on your nightstand?

FB: I’m reading Cruel Acts by Jane Casey and I’m really enjoying it. I just finished The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal that comes out this year and I absolutely loved Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I AmIt’s stunning. The first story in O’Farrell’s memoir will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

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(Image credit: Design by Morgan McMullen)
Rachel Epstein

Rachel Epstein is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in New York City. Most recently, she was the Managing Editor at Coveteur, where she oversaw the site’s day-to-day editorial operations. Previously, she was an editor at Marie Claire, where she wrote and edited culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also launched and managed the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game or finding a new coffee shop.