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A TAP ON THE WINDOW
by Linwood Barclay
Doubleday Canada, August 2013
500 pages
$22.95 CAD
ISBN: 0385669593


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

While it might not be quite fair to accuse Linwood Barclay of writing to a formula, he does employ a recurrent pattern (a mould he broke out of in his last book, TRUST YOUR EYES). In it, an ordinary man in an ordinary job is confronted by the sudden realization that his ordinary world exists as a kind of shallow crust above a pool of violence and corruption that he has only, almost accidentally, become aware of.

That's Barclay's typical template, but A TAP ON THE WINDOW varies from it in some important ways. First there is the narrator/protagonist, Cal Weaver. While a reasonably ordinary man, he does not hold down an ordinary job. Rather he is a private detective, though one wonders how he supports himself in Griffon, NY, which seems rather small to keep him in work. Cal is an ex-cop who had to leave the force in Barclay's usual fictional small city, Promise Falls, when he lost it during an arrest and got caught on camera. He is married to Donna and the couple has recently lost their son, a young teenager who toppled off a roof when under the influence of ecstasy. The Weaver's marriage is coming apart under the strain of guilt and mutual, if unexpressed, recrimination.

Though he ought to know better, Weaver gives a ride on a rainy night to a girl of about his dead son's age. Motivated in part by concern for her welfare, but more by his desire to find out if he can who it was who provided the drugs that led to his son's death, he drives her to a diner where something puzzling occurs that will propel him on a dangerous investigative course. In the course of that same evening, another young girl is murdered and Weaver is determined to bring the killer to justice.

Griffon is near to Niagara Falls, but this is not a tourist town. There is something a bit sinister about it - the local businesses keep a "Our Griffon Cops Are Tops" petition on their counters and rumour has it that the police keep a record of who does not sign. Some of the police are very far from tops, especially in their treatment of adolescents, whom they harass regularly. But Donna Weaver does work as a civilian aide at the Griffon cop shop, where her brother is chief of police, though the family relationship does not mean that Cal gets special consideration from the rather surly force.

Barclay is a thorough-going professional and this book is evidence of his craft. It is not, however, up to the best that he has produced. The interpolated pages in italics that provide snippets of dialogue between the villains are a rather forced device and the motivation for the crime struck me as a bit of a stretch as well. Still, Barclay's trademark sardonic humour provides a welcome note of commonsense that prevents the book from lurching too far into Gothic territory.

It's still summer and A TAP ON THE WINDOW is a perfect holiday book - suspenseful enough to engage your interest, tense enough to keep you turning the pages, twisty enough to surprise you. It may not be the best that Barclay has done, but it's still well worth your time.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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