Tag Archives: Linwood Barclay

More catch-up reviews

I’ve been reading, but not reviewing.  Here’s some quickie reviews to clear the way for more in-depth posts to come.

1.  Two books by William LandayMission Flats and The Strangler – get a “worth reading” thumbs up from me.  I reviewed his Defending Jacob here.  (Loved it.)  Both previous books are crime fiction.  Mission Flats features a long-ago crime, a dead DA, and complex protagonist Ben Truman.  The Strangler focuses on the three Daley brothers – one a prosecutor, one a crooked cop, and one a burglar.  Add a serial killer, and this family drama turns especially dark.

2.  Reed Farrel Coleman’s Hurt Machine.  I loved Reed at Bouchercon – he was on a couple of panels and I found him to be rollicking and funny.  His new PI Moe Prager mystery was available at the OPPL so I snagged it.  Gotta say – not my fave.  Moe’s facing cancer and gets roped into trying to solve a mystery on behalf of his ex-wife.  It’s getting good reviews elsewhere, though, so take my lack of enthusiasm with a grain of salt.   Perhaps I need to start at book #1, not #7?

3.  Michael Harvey‘s We All Fall Down.  I love Michael Harvey’s main character, Michael Kelly, and especially liked the personal side of his stories in The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor.   The new book features Kelly, too, but casts him in a story of bioterrorism.  A bit of a jolt… kind of like when Linwood Barclay moved from funny mysteries (such as Bad Move) to thrillers.  Again, not a fave, but well-written as always.

4.  So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman.  OMG.  If you prefer mysteries that march through the plot in a linear fashion, revealing a couple of clues per chapter until the protagonist is triumphant in the final scene, this book will drive you nuts.   Hoffman takes a small-town story with a not-so-unusual mystery – the disappearance of a pretty waitress – and weaves it into a mesmerizing tale of horror and revenge as a form of civil disobedience.   At one point, you’re pretty sure that something bad is going to happen to somebody you like… and the suspense is killing you.  The characters are compelling.  Clear your weekend, because you won’t want to put it down.

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“Bad” no more… Lone Wolf

I’ve been reading Linwood Barclay‘s books in order.  The first two, Bad Move and Bad Guys, feature sci-fi/reporter Zach Walker in domestic mysteries with a tough guy edge.  The third Walker book in the series, Lone Wolf, breaks the pattern – no “bad” in the title!

The book differs in other ways, too.  It still has the “family in peril” vibe, but in this case, the family is Zach’s father and stepmother, whose peaceful life in the piney woods is threatened by a family of hooligans renting from Zach’s dad.  He’s slow to take action to evict them, and the sheriff in town – who looks oddly familiar – is similarly slow to question their story when a man is killed, ostensibly mauled by a bear but more likely the victim of the evil family’s vicious pit bulls.

Where the previous books were funny with a heavy helping of twisty plot and a dash of mayhem, Lone Wolf ratchets up the violence, introduces numerous plot lines with a multiplicity of characters, and pulls back on the funny.  Zach is not as quirky as in the previous two books… less personality, more action. The change-up at the end is more disconcerting than surprising.  Spoiler alert.  Stop reading now if you haven’t read Lone Wolf yet and are planning to do so!

Or, if you’re still reading, you find that yes, it’s true that the reason why Sheriff Orville looks so dang familiar is because he looks like Zach – he’s his half-brother!  This makes sense to Zach because he remembers a bad time in his parents’ marriage, when his mother took off for a period of time – she needed time to get over her husband’s infidelity.   The twist at the end is that Orville and Zach don’t share a father… they share a mother.  Saintly mom was evidently slutty mom. (Dead now, of course, and can’t speak for herself.)

So, all in all, changes in the series are not to my liking.  And of course this is one I bought on Kindle because it wasn’t available at the library!  Last thought:  if anyone can explain the title to me, please do so.  I have yet to figure out why the book is called Lone Wolf.  I’d have thought Bad Scene.   Or Bad Time.  Or Bad Family.

Bad Move followed by Bad Guys

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.

Linwood Barclay’s Debut Mystery a Madcap Ride

While I was in NYC, the New York Times had a review of the new Harlan Coben book (Caught) which compared Coben to thriller writer Linwood Barclay (specifically his novel Never Look Away).  While vacationing, I read the two books back to back.  But I’ll have to keep you in suspense regarding my take on that argument.   I’ve assembled you here today so we can all hail Linwood Barclay’s whackier side.

I’m not tipping my hand when I say that I enjoyed Barclay’s thriller enough to visit the Oak Park Public Library website and put all his previously published books on hold.  I went and picked them up.  Looking them over, it was like the kid’s matching game “which of these things is not like the other?  Which of these things doesn’t belong?”  Instead of a fear-inspiring title, it was quirky.  Instead of tense, edgy, cover art… it was sort of cartoon-y.  An even bigger tipoff:  a promo line that read “life in the suburbs can be murder.”

Bad Move is hilarious.  The premise is this:  science fiction writer Zachary Walker is on the OCD side when it comes to safety, in the best of circumstances.  Now that he has a wife and a growing family, his urban life (homeless people, drugs, hookers, etc.) seems just too fraught with potential disaster.  So the Walkers sell their nicely appreciated home and move to the suburbs.  But the neatly manicured lawns and the freshly painted new construction homes just put a bright face on the slimy underbelly of the community.   A murdered conservationist, crooked builder, indoor pot farming neighbor, and attractive accountant/dominatrix throw one surprise after another Zach’s way.

What makes it work is the fresh and funny protagonist.  Who but Zach Walker would get so worked up about his wife leaving his keys in the door that he’d try to teach her a lesson by surreptitiously moving her car down the block?  In his mind, Sarah’s response would be to slap her hand to her forehead, say “Oh, no!  I am so stupid!  I never should have left my keys where anyone could take them!  Now they have not only stolen my car, but perhaps will return later and murder my family in our sleep!”  (Needless to say, this is not actual dialogue from the book, I’m making it up to illustrate the point.) When Zach steps forward to admit that there is no actual danger, she will be relieved and grateful, and will have learned a valuable lesson.

What really happens?  She sees the car is gone, calls the police, and gets mad as hell when she realizes the whole thing is a stunt.  Poor Zach.  Life in his mind is so much more satisfying than real life.

That’s why there’s a satisfying bit of karma when Zach snatches what he thinks is his wife’s purse from their shopping cart, tucking it into the trunk of their car and smugly imagining her chagrined admission of how wrong she was and how right he is.   But Sarah’s already learned that lesson, and is wearing a fanny pack.  It’s not her purse.  Zach’s holier than thou purse-snatching leads to the discovery of counterfeit money, pornographic pictures, and yet another body.

This is the first book in a series featuring Zachary Walker – and it’s well-worth reading.  It puts me in mind of Parnell Hall’s Stanley Hastings books (about the world’s most inept private investigator), Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr (professional burglar extraordinaire) series, and of course, the as-yet unpublished works of Karen Burgess (the Paula Berger series about a washed-up actress).  Barclay is a former journalist, married 30+ years, and father to two – and he mines his experiences to great effect in Bad Move.

My plan:  to read the books in order and let you know my related thoughts.  I’m looking forward to exploring Barclay’s transition from humorous mystery to thriller writer.

NYC Bookstores Specialize in Mystery

Like a lot of places, New York City doesn’t have as many bookstores as it used to have.  On the other hand, the number of Starbucks outlets has increased exponentially in the last ten years.  And it continues to have plenty of guys selling handbags and watches, as well as helpful folks wanting to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to go to a comedy club.

Partners & Crime, Greenwich Village

But mystery lovers who make an effort will be rewarded.  A short subway ride to Greenwich Village will bring you to the doorstep of Partners & Crime.  What’s great about this bookstore is the many hand-lettered signs, helping you find the books you’ll most enjoy reading.  I discovered a Kate Atkinson, When Will There be Good News?, that I am currently enjoying.  Atkinson’s book interweaves several perspectives and backstories in a way that reminds me that there’s more to mysteries than clomping through a chronology in first person.  (I can diss this style because that’s what I do.)  Good News is out in paperback and a heck of a bargain, so go buy it.  I also bought a thriller, Close-Up, by Esther Verhoef and translated from the Dutch.  I read a couple of chapters in the store to be sure, and its got me hooked already.   Margot’s just getting over a rough break-up when she meets a mesmerizing man… he opens new doors for her, she’s spreading her wings.  Only the reader suspects he’s a killer.  But is he?

The Mysterious Bookshop, TribecaAlso worth visiting is Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, especially when accompanied by lunch at the Kitchenette, a thrift store stop, and less than 30 minutes in line at the TKTS booth to snag two tickets to Billy Elliott at half-price.  I was lured into a signed copy of Caught by Harlan Coben (always a favorite) as well as Linwood Barclay‘s Never Look Away, after reading a comparison of the two books in today’s New York Times.  I’ve read both authors before and am interested in reading them back to back.

The Mysterious Bookshop’s allure is burnished by its owner, Otto Penzler, well-known on the mystery scene for decades and editor of the Best American Mystery Stories and the Best American Crime Writing series for years.  So well-known is he that he was tapped to write Robert B. Parker’s obituary in Time magazine.

Both mystery bookstores are comfortable, ready for browsing, and feature comfortable chairs and nearby coffee shops.  Both are stuffed to the gills with autographed books.  And both are well-worth visiting, so bring your credit cards and a canvas bookbag!