In my quest to discover a good crime fiction writer I recently stumbled upon the work of Linwood Barclay.
Barclay’s books are slightly different to the majority of what I’ve read before in that they are told from the perspective of one of the characters affected by the crime. Usually the husband of a woman who is missing or dead. This is a good thing because it prevents the usual (and incredibly annoying) focus on the invariably messy personal life of the lead detective which is a staple of most crime novels. In this case the messy personal life of the main character is exactly what is important.
It doesn’t however prevent the stories from becoming somewhat formulaic. I was so excited to find a writer I could enjoy that I read several of his works in fairly quick succession and was dismayed to discover that I was getting irritated by certain patterns that were emerging. However I have just finished reading one of his latest offerings – The Accident and I was pleased to find that the plot varied a little and I didn’t actually guess who the Bad Guy was.
The standard formula for one of Barclay’s stories goes a little something like this:
- Husband wakes up, goes about his completely happy life normally
- Wife mysteriously disappears/dies in an uncharacteristic accident
- Husband struggles to cope with subsequent revelations about his wife’s secret, criminal life
- Police struggle to keep up with husband’s discoveries and bumble about a bit
- Showdown with Bad Guy and usually also with located wife
- The end
I say it’s usually to do with the wife but actually one of the books used the wife’s family as the missing people (No Time For Goodbye) and another had a neighbouring family gunned down. That second example was Too Close To Home and was actually the most obvious to figure out. And if I can guess the ending then anyone can!
Oh and the dialogue is better than most of the others I’ve read but it’s still hard to believe and what’s with giving us over the top detail about every movement the characters make? For instance this paragraph:
We hadn’t washed the dishes from the night before. There were a couple of coffee cups, my Scotch glass and Sheila’s wine goblet, with a dark red residue at the bottom, siting in the sink. I lifted the goblet onto the counter, worried the stem might break if other things got tossed into the sink alongside it.
I mean do we seriously need to know about this little occurrence? Is the author trying to show us what an incredibly normal life these people lead by telling us such mundane details? Or is he just trying to throw in a few extra words in order to up his page count? Either way I find it pointless and irritating and wish that I didn’t have to waste time reading trivial details which serve no purpose in furthering the plot or for character development. Also there should be a semi-colon between counter and worried, not a comma.
So to conclude – I like Linwood Barclay and he is the best crime fiction writer I have come across (and I’ve tried quite a few) but he still tends to fall into the same holes as other writers. I think I’ll give it a while before I try any of his other books.