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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller.
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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls

By Dan Davidson

January 24, 2018

– 736 words –



Broken Promise

Broken Promise

By Linwood Barclay

512 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition



Far From True

Far from True

By Linwood Barclay


480 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition



The Twenty-Three

By Linwood BarclayThe Twenty-Three

464 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition



Having read all of these, one after the other (because I really wanted to know what the heck was going on) I think I have to warn you to have all three on hand or on your e-book reader of choice before you begin the first one. The Promise Falls Trilogy, as it is being called, is probably best described as one long novel.

I want to talk first about the narrative style, which is interesting. Each book is a blend of first and third person narratives, with each book choosing a different first person narrator along with numerous third person points of view (POV).

The chief protagonists are, in order through the books: David Harwood, an out of work reporter; Cal Weaver, a small time private investigator; and Barry Duckworth, a detective with the local police force. We see them through their own eyes, and also through the eyes of each other and those of several other third person viewpoints that weave through the three books.

Each book also begins with a statement from the person behind most – but not all – of the bad things that are happening in the town. Each is a teaser: “I hate this town.”; “They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”; “I know I won’t be able to get them all. But I hope I’ll be able to get enough.”

It’s clear from the very start that whoever is thinking those words believes he has some kind of vengeance owed to him or her, but just what that might be about, and who she or he might be, is hidden until very near the end. There are lots of red herrings, though.

Davis Harwood’s personal mystery begins when he discovers that his emotionally challenged sister (still suffering from a miscarriage) is suddenly in possession of a year old baby she claims to have received from an angel. When the real mother is found murdered, David, who has been forced to take a job as campaign manager for the former mayor of the town, a man he despises, has the task of finding out what has really happened.

Barry Duckworth has been plagued by this same disgraced politico, but he has to admit that whoever killed 23 small animals and hung them from a fence does seem to be sending some kind of a message. There are a couple of murders that also seem to have the number 23 connected to them. He has the niggling feeling that something is going on, but when we first meet him he seems almost more concerned with the need to stay away from donuts. In the first two books we are nearly tempted to write him off, but he improves over time.

Cal Weaver is marginally involved in the first book, but becomes the first person narrator after the opening sequence in book two. This is when someone blows up the support beams at the drive-in theatre on its very last night of operation, killing two people and injuring others when the heavy screen collapses on the cars in the very front row. By date and time of day, this too has a 23 connection, but Weaver doesn’t know about that until later.

The climax comes in the final book, on Memorial Day, which I have to tell you is May 23, because why would Canadian readers know that. Suddenly scores of people are stricken with a strange malady resulting In vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and eventual death. The hospital is swamped and no one can figure out why. This is Duckworth’s turn as narrator, though the other two still have their third person POV chapters.

Each book is part of the larger 23 plot, which eventually gets resolved, but each also has one or more mysteries of its own, which are dealt with in that book and focus more specifically on either Harwood, Weaver or Duckworth.

Barclay has apparently decided that he likes these characters, and this setting, and has returned to use Cal Weaver in two stand-alone mysteries. Harwood has also been used in a book that predates this trilogy. That’s not surprising, as Barclay has created several series in the past, including the lighter and more humorous Zack Walker novels, and two about the Archer family.




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.



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

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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.