No Safe House
Linwood Barclay’s best novel to date is the just-published NO SAFE HOUSE, a sequel of sorts to NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. The qualifier “of sorts” is applied since several years have passed since the events of its predecessor. Also, if you have never read NO TIME FOR GOODBYE (or if your memory of it is a bit fuzzy on the details), you can pick up the new book with the assurance that the estimable Mr. Barclay will economically bring you up to speed without missing a step in the narrative.
And what a narrative it is. NO SAFE HOUSE begins with a violent home invasion before seguing into a couple of mysteries in the midst of a civilized domestic bump involving Terry and Cynthia Archer, and their teenage daughter, Grace. A great deal (though by no means all) of the book is narrated by Terry; when we meet him, some time down the road from NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, the family is not so much split as they are taking what all parties agree to be a very temporary break. Cynthia, whose life has been hallmarked by the trauma of sudden and involuntary family separation, has taken up temporary residence in an apartment following an overreaction to a disagreement with Grace, who in turn is rebelling against the cloying (though certainly understandable) over-protectiveness of her parents.
"NO SAFE HOUSE is Barclay’s most ambitious work to date, full of plot twists and turns, grim humor, rough nobility and dark redemption."
Part of this rebellion manifests itself in Grace’s down-low (though more or less platonic) relationship with a local bad boy named Stuart. Their relationship, and everything else in Grace’s life, goes downhill when she reluctantly accompanies Stuart to the home of a family on vacation, ostensibly to go joyriding in a sports car garaged within. The two are only in the house for a short time when a horrific incident leads Grace to believe that she has accidentally committed a murder.
Grace’s actions bring an unwelcome figure from the past into the Archers’ lives. Vince Fleming, a local crime lord whose reluctant intercession into the events of NO TIME FOR GOODBYE proved to be the Archers’ salvation, is terminally ill but still formidable. Though his criminal enterprise is merely a shadow of what it once was, he is still as cagy, inventive and dangerous as ever. Fleming’s latest moneymaking scheme is seemingly under attack by persons unknown, who, in turn, seem to circle back into his own crew of variably talented miscreants. It slowly becomes evident that the only people Fleming can trust are the Archers, who need him to keep Grace from getting even deeper into trouble.
Meanwhile, two puzzling mysteries play themselves out, as different parties seem hellbent on recovering a mysterious object that was ostensibly in Fleming’s possession, and will stop at nothing to get it. It will take you until the final paragraphs to ultimately determine who is doing what to whom and, most importantly, why.
NO SAFE HOUSE is Barclay’s most ambitious work to date, full of plot twists and turns, grim humor, rough nobility and dark redemption. Those legions of readers familiar with Barclay’s work may find themselves surprised by his tough-guy dialogue that manifests itself here and there to superior effect; if Barclay ever decides to write a straight-up noir novel (and this book comes close to being so in spots), no one should be surprised. There is also a very subtle nod to the past that loyal and obsessive fans will find amusing. It concerns an advertisement for a car dealership and references one of my all-time favorite moments in a Barclay book. It is very subtle and, like everything else in NO SAFE HOUSE, wondrously done.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 8, 2014