I’m reading Linwood Barclay in order. His first book, Bad Move, was a hoot – primarily because the main character is such a neurotic head case, while still being funny. Some bad stuff happened in Bad Move… but nobody we really cared about got knocked off or maimed, so all was fine.
In Bad Guys, Barclay’s taking the badness up a notch while maintaining the neurosis and the humor. Protagonist Zach Walker and his family (newspaper reporter Sarah, college freshman daughter Angie, and 16-year-old son Paul) are back in the big city. Zach’s still on the beat at the Metropolitan and is working a feature story by shadowing PI Lawrence Jones as he investigates a series of break-ins on behalf of business owners. Jones – who becomes a friend and is a recurring character in future books – is stabbed and left for dead in his own home. Only Zach’s fortuitous arrival saves his life.
Meanwhile, back at home, Zach’s worried about Angie’s new suitor… is he just a persistent annoyance, or a real stalker? Is his urge to follow Angie to keep her safe a prudent impulse given the situation, or just ultra-anxious safety nut Zach being Zach? And Paul, who’s always been a good kid, might be flirting with substance abuse. There’s plenty for a worrier to worry about.
As with his previous book, Barclay solves the mystery and ties up all the loose ends. And in a change-up that I won’t reveal here because I don’t want to ruin it for you, he managed to surprise me with a twist at the end. I often see these coming … there’s the problem of the “extraneous character,” for example. Generally, in mysteries, if somebody doesn’t have a real reason to be in the book, it’s a tip-off that the character is not what he (or she) seems. This is the literary version of the Law & Order experience, where an actor that’s way too big for the part he or she is playing must be the bad guy.
So far, Barclay’s managing to include believable violence in a funny, family-centric mystery of the amateur sleuth type. As I know that future books are more straight-out thrillers, I’m interested to see how he keeps this balance up over the next few books and if there is a clear transition point.