Review

Bad Guys

by Linwood Barclay



Zack Walker is a semi-successful (accent on the semi) science
fiction writer whose primary vocation is reporting for The
Metropolitan
. He has a wife who happens to be his boss at the
newspaper, a teenage son and daughter who are for the most part
ungrateful and unappreciative, and a collection of Star Trek models
that are his pride and joy. If Walker seems familiar, he should be,
even if you did not read BAD MOVE, Linwood Barclay's debut novel;
Walker, or someone very much like him, probably lives across the
street from you. His problem is that he occasionally stumbles
across stories that get him into trouble; the entertainment is
watching him get into and out of a jam --- lethal or otherwise ---
over and over throughout the course of a novel.


BAD MOVE was built around the Walkers' move from the big city to
the suburbs, a move motivated by Walker's concerns about high
crime. By the end of the novel, the Walkers had decided to move
back to the city, which is where we find them at the beginning of
BAD GUYS. Walker is doing a feature story on a series of break-ins
of high-end clothiers and is on stakeout duty with Lawrence Jones,
an ex-cop turned private eye who has been retained by the
storeowners to get a fix on the burglaries. The break-ins seem to
be tied to a black SUV that always seems to be in the vicinity when
a burglary occurs, and the guys who are pulling them off mean
business.


The latter becomes especially clear when one of Lawrence's partners
is killed during the course of a burglary. By being on stakeout
with Jones, Walker is obviously putting himself in harm's way, a
fact that does not make his boss at the newspaper too happy.
Walker, meanwhile, has more mundane problems. His 15-year-old son
is exhibiting signs of teenage drinking, and his 18-year-old
daughter seems to have attracted the attention of an undesirable
character; at the same time she is becoming somewhat secretive
about a new friend. Then there is the matter of the monthly budget
exceeding the monthly household income, plus the fact that the
Walker household has three drivers and only one car. Walker thinks
he has solved the latter problem when he buys a used car on the
cheap at a government auction. But he has no idea that he is
setting into play a series of events that will bring himself,
Jones, and those he loves into great danger --- while at the same
time, another, even more dangerous threat is just outside his
door.


The ultimate attraction of BAD GUYS is the way that Barclay so
nicely straddles the line between hard-edged noir and lighter
works. Walker is a likable nebbish, a bundle of walking
eccentricities whose more extreme compulsions are balanced out by
his genuine love for his family (who in many ways are the source of
a number of his obsessions) and his inherent goodness. He is not a
rumpled knight in tarnished armor so much as one who puts the suit
on backwards, forgetting his helmet to boot, yet somehow making do
against very real and graphic dangers. Perhaps more importantly
Barclay also infuses his protagonist with a believability. Walker
may be in the middle of an assignment --- one that could get him
killed --- but that doesn't keep him from worrying about the
household income, trying to work things out logistically so that
his daughter can have the family car, or wondering if his son is
engaging in underage beer-drinking.


Walker ultimately is not so much an attractive character as he is
an endearing one, and that factor --- perhaps more than any other
--- makes BAD GUYS a keeper.


   










Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

Bad Guys
by Linwood Barclay

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553587056
  • ISBN-13: 9780553587050