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Bookends: Extreme Events can have long term consequences January 19, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Extreme Events can have long term consequences

By Dan Davidsonno-safe-house

August 24, 2016

– 916 words –


No Safe House

By Linwood Barclay

512 pages
Seal Books

e-book version $12.99


In the novel No Time for Goodbye we learned the details of the mystery behind the disappearance of Cynthia Archer’s birth family, which happened when she was a young girl. We met some of the cast of the present book, which takes place seven years after the events of that one, and we learned enough to understand why Cynthia is being a ferociously over reactive parent when it comes to raising her daughter, Grace.

Not that Grace isn’t a bit of a handful, but things have gotten so bad between them that Cynthia is taking a break from being mom, and has moved out of the house into an apartment until she can get her emotions under a bit more control.

Terry, her husband, doesn’t think this is a great idea, but it’s summer break time for this teacher, and he can cope as a single parent while his wife sorts things out. After what happened 7 years ago, he thinks he will survive this temporary estrangement.

Terry is the first person narrator of a large portion of the book, but Barclay shows us other narratives as well. The novel begins with a brutal double murder, and it’s quite some time before the various plot strands weave together enough to tell us what this might have to do with the Archer family.

Well before that, Grace goes joyriding with one of the bad boys from school, helps him in breaking into a house in order to filch the keys to that family’s Porsche, and ends up holding a gun that just may have gone off. She’s not sure, but nobody seems to know where Stuart has gone, and she’s afraid she might have shot him by accident when they were jumped by the other person who had broken into that house that night.

When she finally tells her father all about it, there seems to be only one place to go to get information. Seven years earlier the Archer family mystery involved them with a small time gangster named Vince Fleming. Vince is connected to Stuart’s father, so perhaps he will know something about the boy.

Vince has not been well since he was shot during the events of the earlier book, and he has been making changes in his criminal operations in order to compensate for the reduction in his personal physical stamina. There’s something particularly demeaning about having to ear a colostomy bag when you’re a tough guy. Those changes turn out to be the key to the meaning of the book’s title.

This is another track to the narrative that has already seen us following the killers, Grace and Stuart, and a police officer named Rona Wedmore. She’s covering a third murder, which eventually turns out to be connected to the two we saw happen in the prologue.

In some ways, this book provides us with a variation of the “what happens after happily ever after” theme that was in the book I reviewed last week. The Archer family went through Hell and came out the other side, but not without making a sort of deal with the devil, and not without acquiring a big load of post traumatic stress that isn’t finished with them yet. Cynthia’s inner demons and Grace’s rebellion against the rules of an overprotective parent all stem from those earlier events. Terry still has to face the reality that there are times he is willing to do things that he firmly believes are wrong in order to protect his loved ones.

The events of the next several days after Grace’s midnight adventure will test all of them in ways they would not ever have expected, even given their earlier troubles.

By a neat coincidence, I was ruminating about writing this column (while driving down New Brunswick’s French Shore) when who should turn up on CBC’s Candy Palmeter Show but Linwood Barclay himself, talking about his latest book, and his own theories about what makes a good thriller.

No Safe House is a thriller, rather than a mystery, because we know most of what is hidden about the bad guys pretty early on, and the main conflict in the story comes from other places. Barclay feels that the most important sources of tension come from things related to our families or to other people we love. When they are in jeopardy, that’s when the stakes are highest.

That’s certainly the case in this book. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, but everyone, both Terry and Vince, when it comes right down to it, is driven to do what they eventually have to do by the need to protect their loved ones.

Barclay is a successful Canadian writer who had an earlier career in journalism and really hit his stride when he moved from the lighter comic mysteries of the Zack Walker books to the darker thrillers that he is currently producing at the rate of about one a year. Interestingly, he says his star didn’t begin to rise in Canada until his books had caught on in the British market, and it’s in France where they have made one of his books into a television mini-series. It’s odd how often our creative people have to seek approval elsewhere before we recognize them at home.





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