Cannonball Read 7, Book 1: A Tap at the Window by Linwood Barclay

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As we all know, Linwood and I, we go back a bit. Lately, things have been a  little rocky between us, with a duff novel followed up by an absolute rip roaring one. So when it came to this one, I was all “which camp will it fall into?” As it turns out, it fell smack dab between those two stools.

Our protagonist hero is Cal Weaver, a private investigator whose life is looking pretty bleak. His marriage is failing following the drug related accidental death of his teenage son. One night, he picks up a school friend of his dead son’s outside a bar and that seemingly innocuous event ends up sending his life into even more disarray. He is pulled into a murky plot involving police corruption and murder.

It’s an intriguing, interesting and fairly layered plot and Cal is a sympathetic protagonist that a reader can really get behind. His obsession with finding out who supplied the drugs which ended up in his son’s system the night he died is an understandable one, and it’s not a spoiler to say that said plot strand will end up intertwining with all the rest. A big issue I had with the book though is that the rest of the strands are all so broadly drawn and full of caricatures that I found them a little hard to swallow.

Clunky elements or not, Barclay is still a writer worth reading and while I’d put a huge majority of the endgame together before we got there, there were some stings in the tail I didn’t see coming. All in all, this is by no means a failure, but I have enjoyed other books of his a lot more.

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Cannonball Read 6, Book 13: Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay

16169854Ah, Linwood Barclay. As I have documented on previous reviews, I loved him, then I nearly broke up with him, and then with Trust Your Eyes, he won my heart all over again. This short sharp little story first appeared as a novella titled Clouded Vision, which was published for the Quick Reads initiative. Barclay has expanded the original novella into a fully fledged novel (though still short, at just 270 pages), though as I haven’t read the original, I can’t do a compare and contrast.

Barclay brings back some characters from his breakthrough novel, No Time For Goodbye, here. Front and centre is fake psychic Keisha Ceylon, who specialises in finding missing people through her “visions”, for a fee of course. She “helped” the Archer family at the centre of that earlier novel, and Terry pops up for a cameo here too. She spies Wendell Garfield and his pregnant daughter on the news, appealing for the safe return of his wife Ellie and thinks “jackpot”. But then Keisha’s educated guesses are a little too close to the bone and she finds herself up to her neck in a possibly fatal situation.

There’s some other plot strands swirling around the main one there, and Barclay never lets his foot off the gas on any of them for barely a minute. To tie up all the loose ends does take some awfully huge leaps of faith, but then there aren’t that many pages to do it in, so you have to either go with it, or bow out after the first chapter. I went with it and while this is very much Barclay in a minor key, it’s still a better book than The Accident, and nowhere near bad enough to make me consider breaking up with him. Bring on A Tap On The Window.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 87: Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

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Back in my review of his novel The AccidentI noted that I may have to break up with Barclay as the law of diminishing returns was becoming ever stronger. I genuinely thought Trust Your Eyes, with its entirely ridiculous premise, would be the end for us. Well, what can I say? I’m a fickle homo and after this, I’ve taken him back and we’re going hot and heavy again.

So, the ridiculous premise – Thomas Kilbride is a schizophrenic, living at home with his dad. Thomas has been obsessed with maps for as long as anyone can remember and now spends his days on a fictional version of StreetView called Whirl360. Thomas believes he works for the CIA and it’s his job to memorise every online 3D map for the day an Unnamed Event wipes out the internet. Thomas’s dad dies in an accident and his brother Ray comes home for a few days for the funeral and so on. Then Thomas is convinced that on one of his days cyber-walking the streets of Manhattan, he’s seen someone being murdered in an apartment window. Thomas is crazy and so initially nobody believes him, least of all his put-upon brother. Eventually Ray decides it’s best to humour his silly brother and visit the apartment where Thomas saw the murder taking place. And then all hell, naturally, breaks loose.

See? That is ridiculous. A 21st century updating of Rear Window, and one that stretches your suspension of disbelief to snapping point and beyond. But it works. The murder is part of a MUCH bigger plot, involving political scandals and hired killers, while Ray has a mystery of his own to solve when it begins to look like his father’s death wasn’t an accident after all. So there is A LOT going on here, but I never felt it was crowded or padded. And I certainly never thought it was boring or silly. I was gripped from the off and the breakneck pace doesn’t let up at any point.

So after some less than thrilling efforts, Trust Your Eyes has returned Barclay to my eclectic list of “must read” authors. When you consider calling in sick so you can stay home and get to the end, you know you’re on to an unputdownable winner. And when you get stung by the nasty final twist, you won’t be sorry, you’ll just be impressed at his audacity.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 31: The Accident by Linwood Barclay

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I think I may have to break up with Linwood Barclay. I cannot deny that I was absolutely gripped from start to finish by his runaway smash, No Time For Goodbye. However, it’s been slowly diminishing returns from that point on. Each book has been a little less believable, a little more artlessly constructed and with this book from two years ago, a new low is sadly established. There’s two other published books of his I’ve yet to read, and this year sees his latest book, A Tap On The Window, hit the shelves. But the jury is VERY much out as to whether I can fundamentally be bothered to read any of them.

Hailed as being timely, since pretty much every character in the book has been hit by the recession in some way, it focuses on Glen Garber, an everyman contractor who is feeling the pinch due to the housing crisis. When his wife Sheila dies in a car accident, Glen is naturally torn apart by grief. But then it transpires Sheila was drunk and caused the accident, a fact Glen finds it impossible to reconcile. And in trying to find out what happened, he finds himself drawn into a crazy world of skullduggery and intrigue.

So much of this didn’t work for me. First of all, there is a LOT going on. There are about 1400 sub plots milling around the central story of Glen and Sheila.  More than one of them could have been excised without harming the book one iota. Secondly, the jumping between first and third person narration was irksome and jarring. Thirdly, it stretched credibility (and my patience) that so many people were seemingly struggling to make ends meet and turning to a variety of illicit deeds to do so. Yes the recession has been awful and yes it’s impacted on a lot of people, but the whole town seems to be at it. It’s a little much.

As if all that plus the super sketchy and totally flimsy characterisation weren’t enough, when Barclay gathers all the strands of his unwieldy plot and tries to tie them all together, the wheels well and truly come off. The super excited blurb promises that the book builds to “a climax no-one will see coming”. Fair point, but moreover, nobody will believe when it gets here. When the truth behind Sheila’s accident is finally revealed, it’s not shocking. At least, not in the way Barclay intended. It is laughable, completely and totally ridiculous. Maybe this is an off book for him and he pulls it back together for his next one. I can’t decide if I want to find out.