Review

Too Close to Home

by Linwood Barclay

It would be easy to call Linwood Barclay’s latest work a
“breakthrough novel.” But Barclay already has been
garnering critical as well as growing popular acclaim, particularly
in his native Canada, for his Zack Walker books. Perhaps more
significantly, his stand-alone thriller, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, has
been nominated for enough literary awards to collapse a fireplace
mantle; as I write this, it is in the middle of an astonishing
though deserving run at the top of the London Sunday Times
bestseller list. Having said all that, TOO CLOSE TO HOME is an even
better book.

I believe the stories that resonate the most within us are the ones
that strike closest to home; Barclay has been mining the veins of
domestic terror for a while now and hits the mother lode in TOO
CLOSE TO HOME. Derek Cutter is a healthy 17-year-old whose best
friend, Adam Langley, happens to live next door. When Adam’s
family takes a week’s vacation, Derek decides to execute a
foolproof plan to access their house for a bit of romantic
interlude time with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she can’t
make it and then the Langleys suddenly come back only an hour after
they leave. While Derek is hiding in the basement, trying to figure
out a way to sneak out of the house, someone comes in and murders
the family.

A terrified Derek can’t even think of telling his parents,
who have problems of their own. Indeed, Jim Cutter, whose
first-person narration informs most of TOO CLOSE TO HOME, is more
in the dark than the reader in the book’s first part. Jim,
who used to be a driver for Randall Finley, the mayor of Promise
Falls, New York (an upstate college town), is attempting to help
support his family by running a landscaping service. Jim’s
wife Ellen is employed at Thackeray College by Conrad Chase, the
school president. A former English professor, Conrad has utilized
his status as a one-and-done bestselling author to create a
respected and popular literary festival, due in no small measure to
Ellen’s organizational skills.

The Cutters are making ends meet, but barely. And no one is
really happy. While Jim is well rid of Finley, his former employer
(think Diamond Joe Quimby of “The Simpsons” without the
charm), he is a failed artist, one who would rather be painting on
a canvas than riding a mower. Ellen, meanwhile, has her own issues
with her boss, which have quietly resolved themselves and yet
continue to simmer uneasily. The Cutters’ problems --- small,
though not unimportant, and certainly not unusual --- are suddenly
brought to the forefront when the Langleys are found murdered. The
police are not lacking for motives --- Adam’s father was a
criminal defense attorney with no shortage of enemies --- yet it is
Derek who provides the first potential clue as to the why, if not
the who, behind the violent end of the family next door.

Adam and Derek enjoyed recovering discarded computers and
tinkering with them; in the course of doing so, they often
uncovered data on the hard drive that had been long forgotten.
Derek, on a walkthrough of the house conducted by police
detectives, notices that one of the computers is missing. He
recalls it well because of what was on it: a print file that has
the potential to shake the city of Promise Falls and one of its
most famous citizens to its foundations. The police, however, are
barely interested. They have discovered that Derek was in the house
at the time of the murders and have a potential and convincing
motive for why Derek is responsible. As the Cutters’ lives
are turned upside down, Jim and Ellen must confront the truths and
secrets of their own pasts, even as the killer of their next-door
neighbors prepares to strike again. He is much closer than they
ever can imagine.

Barclay has succeeded in producing a masterwork in TOO CLOSE TO
HOME. You will want to race through it yet savor page by page to
remember seemingly unimportant details whose significance will be
revealed later. He waits until a third of the way through before
making a major disclosure, one that resonates through the remainder
of the novel both explicitly and implicitly. There are other
bombshells, both great and small, that lurk in its pages, and part
of the fun is attempting to discern what is most important. While
Barclay’s trademark humor is toned down a bit here, Jim
Cutter, like his creator, is the master of the quick retort. This
is one of 2008’s standouts, from an author whose best work is
yet to come.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Too Close to Home
by Linwood Barclay

  • Publication Date: September 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553805568
  • ISBN-13: 9780553805567