A TAP ON THE WINDOW by Linwood Barclay is one of those books that will stay with you long after you finish reading it. The story starts out with a common general premise --- a well-intended yet extremely foolish action goes horribly awry --- but quickly becomes an irresistible force that compels you to keep reading.
Almost the entire novel takes place in the small upstate New York town of Griffon, which sits in the shadows of the sister American and Canadian cities of Niagara Falls. However, the town is big enough to support at least one private investigator, Cal Weaver, a former Paradise Falls cop who moved to Griffon with his wife Donna and teenage son Scott to make a new start.
"While Barclay mines some familiar territory here, he finds an entirely new way to explore it while bringing his always deft touch and penchant for surprises along for a tour that will have you holding your breath as the proceedings are brought to a conclusion (make that conclusions)."
As the book opens, though, we learn that Cal and his wife are still reeling from Scott’s death by misadventure some two months ago. While Cal is driving on a dark and stormy night (Barclay, to his credit, does not describe it quite in those terms) and lost in his own sad thoughts, there is a tapping on his passenger side car window. The tapper in question is a teenage girl named Claire, who is the same age as Scott and who claims to have been an acquaintance of his. Cal, with a reluctance that will later turn into regret, lets her into his car and gives her a ride, on the theory that perhaps Claire will provide him with more details surrounding the circumstances of Scott’s death.
Not even an hour has passed before another girl, Hannah, is involved. Before the night is over, both are missing, and Cal apparently is the last person to have seen either one of them. The disappearances set off a series of chain reactions through the deceptively quiet village of Griffon and involve the mayor, the police department, local businesses, and yes, Scott’s death, which will prove to have occurred under circumstances that Cal never could have imagined.
Everyone in Griffon, including Cal, has secrets. It doesn’t take long for Barclay to start dropping them like breadcrumbs through his narrative, but at some indeterminate point they turn into land mines, right up to the story’s end. It’s possible that astute readers will guess some of the revelations before they see the light of day, but it is almost impossible to suss them all out, as the author puts his characters through twists and turns you wouldn’t wish on anyone.
While Barclay mines some familiar territory here, he finds an entirely new way to explore it while bringing his always deft touch and penchant for surprises along for a tour that will have you holding your breath as the proceedings are brought to a conclusion (make that conclusions). Whether you live in a quiet village or a bustling metropolis, there are scenarios and people you will recognize in A TAP ON THE WINDOW, which contains some of Barclay’s best plotting to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 9, 2013