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Bookends: One bad move leads to another October 15, 2014

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: One bad move leads to another

By Dan DavidsonBad Move cover

January 8, 2014

– 856 words –


Bad Move

Linwood Barclay

Bantam Books

416 pages



Some people will tell you that you should write about what you know. Linwood Barclay, a former journalist, decided to write about Zack Walker, a former journalist who decided to become a science fiction writer. Most SF writers don’t believe in doing what those people tell them.

Zack lives in suburbia, in what appears to be one of those housing developments that they call new communities. His family’s relocation to there from their former home in the inner city may be the “bad move” indicated in the title. It was supposed to be safer out there, and Zack, at least, is a bit paranoid about safety. Like his creator, he is prone to looking at situations and seeing how they could go wrong.

Still, have you really improved your situation in life when your next door neighbour has a grow-op going in his basement and the hot single lady across the street is running a dominatrix operation in hers? Oh, and they appear to be some of the nicer people in the neighbourhood – and you don’t even know that.

The story doesn’t start there though; it starts with Zack recalling how he was once jealous of his boyhood friend, Jeff, because Jeff had found a dead man when he was 11. One should be careful what one is jealous about. It might come back to bite you later on. In Zack’s case, it does.

I mentioned that Zack worries a lot. Worries about backpacks that might trip you at the top of the stairs, about leaving your keys in the front door lock, or in the car. As a result of his worrying, he is given to setting up little dramatic “lessons” for his wife, Sarah, and his two teenage kids, Paul and Angie. The keys in the car thing causes him to hide her car around the block and make Sarah think it’s been stolen. It also causes him to sleep on the couch that night and send several days with his entire family not really talking to him.

Pretending to trip and fall down the stairs doesn’t turn out to be a good move either, especially when the EMS crew turns up with the ambulance.

We’re up to chapter 6, and a number of these bad moves, before Zack finally evens the score with Jeff and finds a body at the creek in the valley that runs behind the housing development. It’s Spender, the environmentalist who has been trying to prevent the developer from taking the streets in that direction – and he didn’t just fall in the creek and drown.

Zack had seen a confrontation between Spender and Greenway, the ironically named head honcho of Valley Forest Estates, but his mind has been occupied with plot problems in the sequel to Missionary, his most successful SF novel, so he didn’t really make the connection until it was too late.

It is also several moves too late when he realizes that the purse he has hidden away at the supermarket, thinking it to be his wife’s which she has left unattended, isn’t actually hers. In the purse he finds thousands of dollars in counterfeit cash and a roll of film (the book came out in 2004, when there was still film) that proves Greenway’s receptionist, Stefanie, has been in a number of compromising positions with a local politician who has influence on the city’s zoning commission.

He finds Stef in her garage with her head caved into by a shovel when he tries to return the purse, and that bad move puts him on the radar of Greenway’s enforcer, Rick. Oddly enough, Rick happens to be a fan of Zack’s bestseller, not that this will prevent him from breaking a few of Zack’s bones if he doesn’t get the purse and its contents back.

Zack keeps making one bad move after another until he finds himself being chased all over town in his own car and then in the dead woman’s VW. Trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys while not getting blamed for any of what has happened by the police is exhausting in a slapstick kind of way.

Aside from that problem, there’s another mystery which kind of sneaks up on you at the end of the book. Barclay definitely follows the maxim that any potential weapons should be on display early in the story if they are going to be used later. The villains are all taken out by traps that were inadvertently set up very early in the book.

This is the first of four Zack Walker comic thrillers, all published between 2004 and 2007, after which Barclay moved on to darker fare and retired from his day job at the Toronto Star, where he wrote a humour column. While I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t missing the comedic opportunities provided by the Ford brothers, he’s been churning out an average of two novels a year since then and doing very well.





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