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by Linwood Barclay
Bantam, September 2008
416 pages
ISBN: 0553805568

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jim Cutter, disappointed artist and former driver for the town mayor, runs a lawn service in his small upstate New York city, Promise Falls. Aptly named, it appears to be a town in which promise has a habit of petering out. His wife, Ellen, works for the local college, coordinating a literary festival and he has a teen-age son, Derek. All in all, a quite ordinary family living a quite ordinary life, like so many of their friends and neighbours.

But this is a Linwood Barclay novel, and Barclay specializes in arranging confrontation between ordinary life and extraordinary evil. Their next-door neighbours, the Langleys, are preparing to go off on a holiday. Langley is a successful criminal lawyer and like Cutter, he has a wife and one son, Adam, a close friend of Derek's. The wistfully horny Derek has concocted a plan - he will hide in the Langley's house and after they've gone, he and his girlfriend will have the run of the place for entire week.

Things do not work out quite as hoped. The Langleys leave but return unexpectedly and when they do they are brutally murdered. Derek does not witness the crime itself, just its bloody aftermath, and with characteristic teenage logic, he says nothing about it either to the police or to his family, since he ashamed to admit what he'd been planning. Inevitably, he is arrested when traces of his presence are detected in the house.

That is by no means the end of it and the suspense is wound ever tighter as Jim Cutter, who is narrating the story, attempts to follow what leads he can to save his son. His inquiries stir up some very dangerous people who threaten to kill him and his wife. They also lead to revelations that expose the secrets that some very ordinary residents of Promise Falls had hoped were thoroughly hidden and forgotten. In the end, and this is the real strength of the novel, Cutter has to face truths about himself, his wife, and people they know that will transform his life far more profoundly even than his brush with violence and terror.

Barclay's previous novel, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, was immensely popular, especially in the UK. Readers will want to know if he repeats this time around. On the whole, the answer is yes. There may be a certain, perhaps unavoidable, degree of over-complication in terms of plot, but the characterization is very sound. Jim Cutter is a likeable fellow, despite his evident flaws, and his wife and son behave in credible ways. Promise Falls itself is also richly portrayed and we understand quite a bit about its class structure and its politics by the conclusion. (Canadian readers will get a certain sly satisfaction from the way Barclay, Toronto resident and Canadian born and bred, introduces Canadian references along the way, rather like Alex Trebek on Jeopardy.) Promise Falls, which put me in mind of a Saratoga Springs without the horses, is a very American place all the same, especially in Barclay's shrewd rendition of sin and redemption in American electoral politics.

Like NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, this one is a page-turner, likely to keep you up long past your bedtime to see how it all works out.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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