Linwood Barclay is the master, not to mention the innovator, of the suburban thriller. He has written an admirable and enviable string of books dealing with those among the well-off who, in the words of Lewis Carroll, must run as fast as they can to stay in place, and what happens when some very strange and unexpected sand gets in the gears. Where Barclay has stepped it up a notch or three in book after book has been with the mystery element of his novels, which, not coincidentally, have become darker and darker with each successive offering.
"If you are looking for a mesmerizing and literate escape from the onset of the autumn months, you need look no further than THE ACCIDENT."
THE ACCIDENT, Barclay’s newest book, continues the upward trajectory established by its predecessors. He begins with a truism that is not necessarily unusual in thriller literature: everyone has secrets. In this world, as in ours, it’s those little common ones that get you into trouble: fudging on taxes; missing payments on bills; or living beyond means, either by carelessness or by necessity. At a certain point, reality rears its head and one needs to do something drastic, which invariably makes things worse. So it is that THE ACCIDENT deals with the scenario of what happens when the honey wagon loses a wheel and dumps its load, and then some, in the front yard.
Glen Garber, the owner of a small but successful construction company, is having difficulties, what with a soft economy and an employee and a subcontractor who seem to be going off the rails in different directions. A fire that all but destroys one of his construction projects may well put him awash in red ink as well. Those problems, though, pale in comparison to what occurs on a night, no different from any other, when his wife, Sheila, is late returning from an evening business class. Glen and his semi-precocious eight-year-old daughter, Kelly, go looking for her and are horrified when they come across an accident that has left her and members of another family dead. As if this loss was not enough, it appears that Sheila caused the accident as the result of her driving while intoxicated. Such behavior would be totally uncharacteristic of her, so the circumstances, in addition to the loss itself, leave Glen reeling and befuddled.
Within a couple of weeks, a good friend of Sheila’s, and the mother of Kelly’s best friend, dies as well, in what appears to be a freak accident. Glen’s hackles go up. It develops that Sheila did not attend her business class on the night she died. She had a mysterious envelope that she was supposed to deliver, but never did. Now someone wants that envelope very badly and thinks Glen has it. Glen remembers that on the morning she died, Sheila told him, “I have ideas. Ideas to help us. To get us through the rough patches.” He is beginning to wonder what those ideas were, and what she was involved in when she died. Glen is curious, but most of all is angry. As more secrets are revealed, Glen is less and less sure of who he can --- and should --- trust. Little does he know that Kelly holds the key to at least a couple of his questions, even if it isn’t the one he wants the most to be answered: Was Sheila really at fault in the accident that took her life? Or was her death an accident at all?
THE ACCIDENT is Barclay’s most ambitious book to date and, not coincidentally, contains some of his best writing. There is one point, about halfway through, when Glen is on the receiving end of a couple of surprises about his wife --- one after another, boom boom --- that hit with the explosiveness of a two-by-four up the side of your head in a dark and quiet room. The hits and surprises keep on coming after that. But this is not all smoke and violence, by any means. There is one vignette where Glen begins going through the items that were in the purse that Sheila had with her on the night she died. It is one of the best pieces of writing that Barclay has ever done, which is saying something (and those of you who have read NEVER LOOK AWAY know what I mean).
If you are looking for a mesmerizing and literate escape from the onset of the autumn months, you need look no further than THE ACCIDENT.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 9, 2011