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Book Author: Linwood Barclay

THE LIE MAKER by Linwood Barclay: Book Review

We all know that people are complicated, that there may be many, many aspects to an individual.  In The Lie Maker, Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, we learn that the relationship between a criminal father and his son leads to an outcome no one could have predicted.

When the book opens, a man is taken away from his wife and young son and put into the Witness Protection Program.  His wife refuses to go with him, and the child remains with her.  As the father is about to enter the government car that will take him to his new life, his son runs after him, pleading for his father to say he’s sorry so that he can remain home with his family.  “Sorry isn’t good enough sometimes….I killed people.  Sorry just doesn’t cut it.”

The son grows up to be an author, although not a financially successful one.  He’s written two novels under a pen name, and even his “real name” isn’t the name he was born with.  After his father left, his mother remarried; he took his stepfather’s name, so his name is now Jack Givens.

Jack is definitely down on his luck, and he’s even more disheartened when his agent tells him that his editor isn’t interested in the book he just completed.  However, the agent says he’s been contacted by someone who may have a job for Jack, one that could turn out to be more remunerative than his book would have been.  It all seems a bit strange to Jack, having to contact an unknown person on a burner phone, but he’s desperate enough to listen to almost any opportunity.

When he arrives at the Boston office of Pandora Importing, he discovers that it’s a cover for the U. S. Marshals Service, the government agency that put his father in the Witness Protection Program.  The marshal, Gwen Kaminsky, appears ignorant of that fact, and Jack doesn’t inform her of it.

She tells him that members of the Service who have read his two published novels are impressed “by the characters, how developed they were…I’m told the characters were very authentic, very three dimensional.”  The Service, Gwen informs him, is looking for people who can create realistic backstories for those who enter the Program, and Jack’s name was given to her.  The money is more than Jack had received for his previous novels, so he agrees to start creating a story for a man in the Program.

What Jack doesn’t tell Gwen is that a major reason he’s agreeing to take the job is the possibility that it will help him locate his father.  Although it was forbidden, Jack’s father had made contact with him several times over the years, although it had been some time since their last meeting.

Gwen impresses upon Jack that everything he does is totally confidential, not to be shared with anyone.  Jack agrees, but the woman he’s dating, an investigative reporter, naturally wants to find out about his new job, and the more he says he can’t tell her anything about it, the more she is determined to get the information on her own.

“I should warn you,” she says.  “You’ve presented a challenge to me.”

As were all of Linwood Barclay’s previous novels, this one is outstanding.  The characters are believable, the plot is clever, and the twists and turns will keep you guessing throughout the book.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


FIND YOU FIRST by Linwood Barclay: Book Review

Linwood Barclay is an absolute master of new mystery tropes.  He proves that once again in his latest novel, FIND YOU FIRST.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with a similar storyline.

The first thread of the novel concerns Miles Cookson, a tech billionaire, a man so focused on his career that he never has had a serious romantic relationship, much less a wife.  When he was young, he donated his sperm for some much-needed money but never thought about it again.  Now, however, he has received a devastating diagnosis–he has Huntington’s Disease Chorea, a rare, inherited disease that causes a breakdown in the nerve cells in the brain, with symptoms including difficulty in speaking, walking, and controlling involuntary jerking movements.

When Miles hears the news from his physician, his first thoughts are for himself and his brother.  Then the doctor, trying to soften the blow, tells him, “There is one piece of good news….You have no children,” because the children of someone with Huntington’s have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease.  That’s when Miles becomes aware of the devastating repercussions of his long-ago sperm donation.  Does he have children and, if so, how many and how can he find out?  And then, what can he do about it?

The second thread concerns another billionaire, Jeremy Pritkin.  A friend of the rich and famous, Jeremy is concerned only with himself, his pleasures and desires.  His predilection for using young girls, and sharing them with his friends, is only  one of his many undesirable characteristics, and there’s nothing he won’t stop at to keep his hold on others–truly, nothing.

In the midst of hosting one of his parties, Jeremy gets a call from his sister, informing him that she’s found out something “that doesn’t make any sense at all” and wondering if he knows anything about it.  “Is it possible that we have relatives we’ve never even heard of?” she asks him.  And that is where the two threads connect.

Although both Miles and Jeremy are equally successful, their reactions to the information they receive are diametrically opposed.  As each man struggles to assimilate the news and how it affects him, the reader gains insight into the qualities that make us human.  And perhaps it makes us wonder how we might react if we heard that we had a fatal disease, one that unknowingly we might have passed on to future generations.

Linwood Barclay has written another outstanding novel, one that goes beyond the conventions of the mystery genre and asks us to consider questions we may not have thought of before.  Good and evil are exhibited to perfection in Find You First, as in a medieval morality play.

You can read more about Linwood Barclay at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

TRUST YOUR EYES by Linwood Barclay: Book Review

Linwood Barclay has done it again, creating a fascinating novel that’s nearly impossible to put down.  Actually, Trust Your Eyes is impossible to put down, as is every other Barclay book I’ve read.

Ray Kilbride has returned home to upper New York State after the death of his father, in part to determine what’s best for his younger brother.  Thomas is a high-functioning schizophrenic, obsessed with mapping all the streets in the world; he’s convinced that there will be a catastrophe in which all maps will be destroyed.

When, not if, he believes that will happen, Thomas will be the only one in the world who has the knowledge that the maps had held.  He’s been “in contact” with the CIA and former President Bill Clinton and has assured them of his abilities and cooperation in this matter.  In order to concentrate on this, Thomas has hardly left his house in several years.  He leaves his room only to have three quick meals a day and then returns to continue his memorization project.

One day, while on the web’s Whirl360 site, Thomas sees what looks like a person’s head wrapped in a plastic bag.  For as long as he looks at the window where the head is, it doesn’t move.  Could he possibly be seeing a murder taking place?

In Linwood Barclay’s adept hands, this is the main thread of the mystery but not the only one.  Allison Fitch, a young woman working as a waitress in lower Manhattan, is having money troubles.  Her salary isn’t big enough to cover her part of the rent for the apartment she shares or for all the clothes she buys, so she’s always doing a little creative financing.  At first it’s innocent enough, if not very nice, as she spins a story to her mother in order to get her mother to send her a thousand dollars.  But it turns dangerous when she decides to turn to blackmail to get sufficient funds to finally pay all her debts.

And then there are the political figures, killers-for-hire, and FBI agents coming to the Kilbrides’ house to talk to Thomas about his frequent e-mails to the CIA.  If you think this won’t all hang together to make a fantastic thriller, you obviously don’t know Linwood Barclay.

The characters in Trust Your Eyes are totally believable, as is the plot.  Sometimes the most seemingly innocent or innocuous decisions have grave consequences.  If Ray Kilbride hadn’t come home to straighten out his father’s affairs and decide about his brother’s future, he wouldn’t have seen the Whirl360 web site and gone to Manhattan to investigate what his brother thought was a murder.  If Allison Fitch hadn’t turned the television on at a particular moment, the blackmail plot would never have entered her mind.  And if Nicole had won the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics instead of the silver, she might not have become a professional assassin.

Linwood Barclay is a master of his craft.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

BAD MOVE by Linwood Barclay: Book Review

“For years, I envied my friend Jeff Conklin, who, at the age of eleven, found a dead guy.” I ask you, who could resist a line like that?

Bad Move, by Linwood Barclay, has that as its opening line.  And it just gets better.

Writing a humorous mystery is obviously very hard to do since so many writers fail at doing it.  Barclay, in what was his first novel, does a perfect job combining laugh-out-loud humor with a cleverly plotted story.  There are so many seemingly throw-away lines in the novel that end up tying the story into a perfect package that at the end I was truly impressed by Barclay’s cleverness.  Backpacks thrown down where they shouldn’t be, a teenager’s desire for a tattoo, a man lacking a sense of smell–the items of real importance are mixed so cleverly with the red herrings that I didn’t recognize them for what they were. Barclay must be familiar with Anton Chekhov’s line, “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”  All of Barclay’s rifles were aimed well and fired.

Zack Walker and his family have moved from Toronto, although that city isn’t named in the book, to the suburbs for what he views as a safer life.  Zack sees danger everywhere–keys left in the car in the driveway (a car thief might be lurking), a hair blower in the bathroom sink (possible electrocution), a front door left unbolted (a burglar’s dream).  But his every effort to try to impart cautionary tales to his wife and teenage son and daughter lead them to see him as a paranoid control freak, if not worse.  But, unable to stop himself from “teaching them a lesson,” he blunders on and eventually lands in the middle of corruption and murder in his safe, suburban environment.

It’s clear that Zack only wants to teach his family important lessons, but each one makes him appear more foolish than the one before. In his attempt to show his wife that she shouldn’t leave her purse in her shopping cart when she moves to another aisle, he slips the bag under his jacket and goes to his car to hide it in the trunk.  He waits there for his wife to leave the store, upset that her bag has been stolen.  But when she gets into his car, she has no purse and isn’t upset.  She tells him that she’s realized that wearing a fanny pack is easier than carrying her heavy purse while she’s shopping, so in fact she didn’t have her purse with her at all.  So who’s purse does Zack have in his car?  The story goes on from there.

Chapter 15, in which Zack and his son attend a parent-teacher meeting with the son’s science teacher, is the funniest piece of writing I’ve read anywhere in years. The beauty of it is that it’s totally a part of the story.   It’s not humorous lines gratuitously thrown in to make the reader laugh but rather a deeper look into the mind of the hero and his total obliviousness to how his son and the teacher view his actions during the meeting.  It’s funny and true at the same time.

My only regret after reading Bad Move was that I had never heard of the author until he was recommended to me a couple of weeks ago.  He’s a top-selling novelist in Canada and the United Kingdom and the author of several more books following Zack Walker, in addition to stand alone thrillers.  I guess I’ve got a lot of catching-up to do.

You can learn more about Linwood Barclay at his web site.