It is my absolute pleasure to be sharing my thoughts on The Source, the brand new thriller from Sarah Sultoon and Orenda Books. I always look forward to reading a new title from Orenda, especially when it is also a new to me author. A huge thank you to Orenda Books who gifted me an advance copy and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to tag along. Here’s what the book is about:
About the Book
1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…
2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier…
As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth … and justice.
A riveting, searing and devastatingly dark thriller, The Source is also a story about survival, about hopes and dreams, about power, abuse and resilience … an immense, tense and thought-provoking debut that you will never, ever forget.
This is a work of fiction. That’s what you need to keep reminding yourself when you read this book. Why? Because there is a real sense of authenticity about the piece, a plausible edge to so many elements of the story that, given the author’s other career, you kind of end up wondering if she really knows something we don’t. That said, this is a fictional base, in a fictional town and a fictional new network, but in spite of all of this, in spite of the fact that we know this is make believe, given the kinds of headlines we have witnessed over the not too distant past, it has a real ripped from the headlines feel to it, combined with perfect pacing and a real tension that you can feel building from the very beginning.
For the record, this is ultimately a story of grooming, of abuse of power and of neglect. It is not gratuitous or graphic in execution so for those concerned about these themes, you don’t need to worry too much. Sarah Sultoon has played a really canny game, getting across all the atrocities of the story, all the hidden horrors and the implications of what is said, and what is not, without ever having to resort to making the reader the voyeur. She takes us to the edge, so that we know where the story is leading, where it has led, but never crossing that very fine line. There are scenes that will be upsetting, its unavoidable, and it is a testament to her skill as storyteller that she is able to elicit such emotions without having to resort to push us too far. The bond between Carly and Kayleigh, her younger sister, will make you smile, the neglect and ultimately the abuse they suffer, will break your heart. Make you angry. Good. It should.
This is a dual timeline story, introducing us to our two main protagonists whose perspectives guide us through the twists and turns of this story. One half of the story is dedicated to Carly, starting in the late nineties, when she is a young girl trying hard to keep her broken family together and to protect her baby sister Kayleigh. The second part of the story belongs to Marie, an assistant producer at Nine Network who we meet in the middle of an undercover operation with her colleague Dominic, as he tries to expose a trafficking ring.
Carly has a strength that belies her age, and it is hard, at times, to remember that she is just a child as she is forced to a maturity and a situation that no teenager should have to confront. But when it comes to the simple facts of what comes to pass, of what happens to her, the realities of her age really do come back to hit you in the face. As readers we understand all too well what is happening, but the stark truth of what is finally revealed left me reeling. Sarah Sultoon really has captured the abhorrent nature of abusers, of the whole grooming process, and it makes for a difficult read at times, especially when the full horror of what was done is revealed later in the book.
Marie is a very different beast. Initially she appears quite timid, overwhelmed by what is happening around her, as well she might be given that she is thrown right into the middle of Dominic’s sting. But from here we learn more of her character, of her past and of what it is that is really causing her to struggle. There is a real mystery around Marie, a clear anxiety and issues to which. we are not initially privy. She is a harder character to feel empathy towards, but I still felt compelled to follow her story and I was intrigued and felt compelled to understand her more fully, with good cause.
I have to be careful what I say about the plot, partly because I think you need to read the book to see it unfold for yourself. But the central theme is an abuse of power, the excusing of the inexcusable in the interest of ‘National Security’. It is a corruption that leads back to some of the most senior positions in Government, and which cannot be forgiven. But not everyone is willing to forget, and it is conscience of one who remained silenced for too long that proves to be the catalyst for what eventually comes to pass. There are no big explosive moments of action, although there are many which are pivotal in exposing the truth and they create not only an anticipation. but an urgency which pushes the action on and drives us to a pulse thumping and killer conclusion. The ending itself … Well, perhaps not the closure you’d expect but perfectly fitting.
This is a fast paced, intelligent and compelling look at a very difficult subject – abuse and exploitation. It is not a long book, but it is powerful, and it is one I definitely recommend. Sarah Sultoon has used her experience in media to create a setting and a story which is almost horrifically authentic, and I am really looking forward to seeing what she will offer us all next.
About the Author
Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…
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