When Cal Weaver stops at red light on a rainy night while driving home, he ignores the bedraggled-looking teenaged girl trying to hitch a lift. Even when she starts tapping on his window. But when she says, ‘Hey, aren’t you Scott’s dad?’ and he realizes she’s one of his son’s classmates, he can’t really ignore her. OK, so giving a ride to a teenage girl might not be the smartest move, but how much harm could it do? Over the next 24 hours Cal is about to find out. When the girl, Claire, asks to stop at a restroom on the way home, he’s happy to oblige. But the girl who gets back in the car seems strangely nervous, and it’s only when they get nearer their destination that Cal realizes she no longer has the nasty cut that he noticed on Claire’s hand. After he’s finally let her out of the car he remains puzzled and intrigued. But it’s only the next morning that he starts to really worry. That’s when the police cruiser turns up at his door and asks him if he gave a lift to a girl the previous night. A girl who has now been found brutally murdered. If Cal is going to clear his name he’s going to have to figure out what Claire was really up to and what part he played in her curious deception. But doing so will involve him in some of the small town of Griffon’s most carefully kept secrets – and a conspiracy as bizarre as it is deadly.
We all know that Linwood Barclay quite proudly carries the moniker of the Twistyturny Master- okay so I made that bit up- but regular readers of his books will know that as soon as the end of that chapter beckons there will be a surprise in store and a genuine sense of ‘Well, I didn’t see that coming.’ A Tap In The Window, then, was more than a little surprising in largely avoiding his trademark changes of direction (aside from one blinder near the end) and instead presented itself as an altogether more introspective story with a real emotional depth to the whole affair.
From Cal Weaver’s initial truly foolhardy actions in giving a lift to, as it turns out, two girls- one goes missing and one who ends up murdered- Barclay neatly controls the interplay between Weaver’s involvement in the subsequent investigation, as a private investigator himself, and the obsessive quest he is currently immersed in to track down those responsible for his son’s death. Was it really accidental death? Suicide? Or murder? As the nefarious goings on in the local police department and the wider community are revealed, Weaver’s life is thrust into a maelstrom of suspicion and murder. As is usual we are slightly wrong-footed by the events as they reveal themselves, but unfortunately I got a whiff of the guilty party and was sadly proved right- damn my prolific reading of crime books- but I wouldn’t say it was too obvious so never fear! I was also racking my brains all the way through about the similarity of the girl-switching plot to something else I have read or seen that rather diluted this element of the plot for me, but there was something that impressed me greatly…
I think what I found most compelling about this book, in the light of Barclay’s other outings, was the highly sensitive characterisation of both Cal Weaver and his wife, sadly emotionally estranged from each other with their differing responses and reactions to the loss of their son, and their tentative rebuilding of their fractured relationship with, as it turns out, devastating consequences for both. There was a surety of touch in Barclay’s depiction of both, that although deftly mirroring his usual high standard of characterisation, just had an added frisson and was made all the more poignant as their former relationship with their son and his growing emotional turmoil come to light. Very nicely done.
Overall, I wouldn’t label this as a typical Linwood Barclay book, with the greater attention to the emotional machinations of his central character and the pinpoint study of life and corruption in a small community. However, there are enough trademark Barclay quirks to please most and A Tap On The Window proved itself a satisfying and nicely unsettling thriller.
Linwood Barclay is married with two children and lives near Toronto. He is the author of three acclaimed Zack Walker mysteries, a former columnist for the Toronto Star, and is the author of the Richard & Judy 2008 Summer Read winner and number one besteller, No Time For Goodbye. Author’s website: http://linwoodbarclay.com/ Follow on Twitter @linwood_barclay
More reviews of A Tap On The Window can be found at:
(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)