Linwood Barclay. No Safe House. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Barclay does it again in this latest novel; the author's fertile imagination knows no bounds. Ordinary people and events stumble into extraordinary, terrifying problems, all propelling the reader toward a climax almost impossible to anticipate. Two teenagers trespassing, for a not-so-innocent lark ... what could possibly go wrong?! The answer of course is just everything: cue the non-stop action. Terry Archer is the hapless suburbanite whose wife Cynthia is still recovering from years-old trauma and they have to deal with Grace, their stubborn teenager. How many dead bodies before Terry gets an inkling of the menacing forces set into motion around him?
More than one criminal enterprise is thriving behind the scenes. We're kept guessing about Vince, the unrepentant crook; Jane, his adopted daughter; Nathaniel the dog walker; Reggie the mysterious voice; Wedmore the cop; and a host of confused others. All dished up with an irresistible bite of humour. If you don't know Linwood Barclay yet, you're missing exceptional "can't put it down" suspense.
Jane at work:
Was this what she really wanted to do? Mr. Archer, he'd figured her out. She wanted to write, and not stupid jingles for gas stations and furnace repair companies. She wanted to write novels. She wanted to write about what it was like to be a young woman growing up today. Wondering what the hell you were going to do with your life. Having to fight for everything you get. Nobody wanting to give you a permanent job. All short-term contracts. No benefits. The whole 22-22-22 thing. If you were twenty-two, companies worked you twenty-two hours a day for twenty-two thousand dollars a year. And if you didn't like that, well, tough shit. (268-9)
"If we call the cops, Grace might not be in as much trouble as we first feared, and we'll be helping Jane at the same time."
I wasn't so sure.
I decided to try another tack with Cynthia.
"That man out there, I know what he is. He's a thug. I get that. But I still feel I owe him. For how he helped us before. If he hadn't come with me that night, I wouldn't have found you―you and Grace―in time. And like they say, no good deed goes unpunished. He nearly died."
Cynthia's eyes softened. "I don't feel any different. I know the sacrifice he made. But what can we do? Jesus, Terry, what the hell can we do?"
John Lescroart. The Hunter. Toronto: Dutton/Penguin Group, 2012.
Adoption: a personal mystery that many adoptees hope to resolve for different reasons. Upon learning shocking news about his birth parents, private eye Wyatt Hunt has no choice. He must use all his skills to trace events of forty years ago. His original informant is an unknown; the clues are sparse. A few bodies begin to pile up, literally making nightmares for Wyatt as he is in the process of making a committed relationship to Tamara. His friend Devin Juhle the cop helps with technical access at each stalemate. Wyatt Hunt and a few other names in the story will be familiar to Lescroart fans and his chronicles of a fictional San Francisco cluster of inter-related friends in legal and law enforcement circles.
How many ghosts can Wyatt conjure up before it's over? ... even the ill-fated Jim Jones colony in Guyana. The unfolding revelations and consequences begin to overpower the psyche of a 40s-something alpha male. Yet I felt Lescroart uncharacteristically fell down a bit here. Tamara's devotion does not feel depicted strongly enough and I could not see the spark in the relationship.
The friends have a typical conversation:
" ... I do my real job for which I get paid as a homicide inspector, and you're asking me if I could just look up a little something for you in my free time and for no compensation whatsoever?"
"There would be compensation of performing a small but meaningful service for your best friend in the world."
"I don't think that's going to be enough."
"It will be, especially when you hear what it is."
"I don't want to hear what it is, Wyatt. I've got other work I'm supposed to be doing, as I believe I've mentioned already now a time or two. And after I'm done here, I've got three witness interviews starting"―Juhle checked his watch―"in exactly forty-two minutes and they will take me through the rest of the afternoon and possibly even into the night and that in turn will make me late for dinner, which Connie hates and I can't say I blame her because I hate it, too."
"You are in rare eloquence today," Hunt said. (37-38)
A premature call:
Hunt sat at the counter of the restaurant in his hotel. In front of him was a glass of milk. On his plate was what little remained of a large serving of breaded pork tenderloin, an Indianapolis specialty of which he was sure Mickey would not approve. Nevertheless, it hit the spot at the moment―hearty, bland, comforting, filling. Mashed potatoes and a really pretty good red cabbage dish as the sides rounded everything out nicely.
He felt the buzz of his cell phone at his belt before he heard its guitar-strumming ringtone. He'd played phone tag and left a message with Juhle and didn't plan to pick up for anyone except him or Tamara, and sure enough, here he was.
"What do you mean the case is solved?"
"Is there a possible second meaning?"
"Come on. Talk to me."(230)
Cathi Unsworth. Weirdo. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2013.
The title was not appealing, but the blurb "Queen of Noir in the UK" was. A tale of secret teenage revenge in a small Norfolk (England) town is revived twenty years later. Sean Ward arrives to research the old murder case, unaware of unleashing dire consequences. Corrine Woodrow, locked up in an asylum, had been accepted as the perpetrator but Sean and his employer think otherwise. The probing reveals a lasting layer of degeneracy and complicity as the narrative switches between the two time periods. A "cast" of dozens keeps us on our toes.
Sean finds some allies as he seeks interviews with all concerned, striving to understand the issues. But he is putting them in danger. A brilliant ploy is our not knowing who the victim was! My original reservation about a novel based largely on teenage life quickly dissipated; Unsworth definitely has the magic touch at ramping up unbearable suspense.
New girl arrives:
He handed Samantha a piece of paper with her timetable. Her results from the public school she had previously been attending in London put her in the top stream, so Corrine wouldn't be much help showing her around.
"Deborah Carver," Mr. Pearson looked across to the other side of the classroom. "You have the same lessons as Samantha here, can I trust you to show her how to get about?"
Deborah opened her mouth but it took a while for the words to come out. She had been staring at the new girl with a strange feeling of dread coiling inside her. She didn't know why, or what it was about her. Later she would imagine that she had been struck by a premonition, that this girl who looked so shining and pretty actually had a black cloud hanging over her head that was about to open up on her world.
On all of their worlds. (43)
Magical or medical?
Corrine had the strangest sensation, as if she had started floating through the air.
"Fade into the light," she heard Noj say. "Fade into the light and disappear."
She didn't hear the door open, nor see the shapes of several people standing over her.
"She's passed clean out," said Sheila Alcott, gently lifting Corrine's right eyelid.
"In that position?" Gray said. Corrine was sitting bolt upright.
"She's catatonic," Sheila spoke as one who had seen this sort of thing many times before. "We need to call an ambulance." (120)