A few months ago, I discovered a post on Goodreads asking about the thriller author, Linwood Barclay (evidently, Stephen King had recommended Barclay as an author, thus encouraging many King fans to look at Barclay and his work). As I remember, the answers were mostly positive, saying that Barclay was a high caliber crime thriller writer and well worth a read. So, when an offer came up on Amazon, I decided to read a few Barclay books.
The first book I read (I think… you will see why they all blur in a moment…) was Never Look Away. this is the story of a small town reporter whose wife disappears on a day trip to an amusement park.
Never Look Away seemed to me a fairly entertaining read, but a little long winded.
Now this is not to say I want all action and quick resolutions in a thriller. I don’t. I much prefer getting into the characters’ heads. But in this case, the main character’s first person ramblings, coupled with his seemingly complete inability to recognise what was happening in front of his eyes, soon began to get on my nerves. Nevertheless, I persevered, only to find a rather unsatisfying conclusion. Okay, we do find out all the answers, but did Barclay really have to use such a cliche killing off of one of the main characters in order to set things right?
However, I kept on reading Linwood Barclay. By now I had him marked as an easy read and his novels were definitely put down-able and pick up-able again, which enabled me to read them without losing the plot when I had time during what has been a very busy working schedule.
And as I had a whole set of Linwood Barclay books, I thought I may as well continue….
But now Linwood Barclay boredom is definitely settling in…and I still have a few books to go!
The problem with Barclay is that, even though (apart from his early books with the character of Zack Walker) all his first person characters are different people, they all share many of the same characteristics:
- They all ramble on in their heads
- They all make stupid decisions
- Many of them have a journalist or writing background (some have both)
- They are all middle class, small town Americans
- They all have (or have had) wives and children who do not understand them, but put up with them.
- These guys are all likeable and have a strong need to do the right thing, but they are totally frustrating to those who have to deal with them.
Basically, they are all middle class American men who, I would guess, the author wants to relate to his books.
So what about Barclay’s other characters?
- Well, he has the wife, who nearly always appears to look and act the same (in my head at least). She is sensible, usually successful, and long suffering of our main character. Even when she is killed off (not that often, but it happens), it is discovered that she was really trying to be a good person but was defeated or tricked by circumstances.
- There is the teenage daughter. She is pretty, clever, and also long suffering of her dad. Not much else to say there really. Read a novel about any mid America teenage daughter and you will get my drift…
- There is the teenage son. He is usually a younger version of his father (although he doesn’t know it yet…), making the same mistakes and causing the same havoc.
I could probably take these three characters and place them in most Linwood Barclay books.
We also have the minor characters. These are there to show us that Barclay is a liberal minded man.
For example, we have the middle class dominatrix with a soft heart; the gay black guy with a great sense of humour; even a mercenary killer who does the right thing before dieing.
By now, I know as soon as I read a new Barclay character, what is going to happen to them.
Barclay then takes these characters and drops them into the middle of a thriller plot, thus producing, as some would call it, a domestic thriller.
Now there’s nothing wrong with this, you could say. Why shouldn’t your average American male be able to know his hero inside out? And what could possibly be more unsettling than something happening to a typical family…just like us…?
But for those of us who are not middle class American males, or part of their family group, this ongoing characterisation is extremely boring and predictable (as I guess it might also be for those mid American males…).
I guess that there are other British working class female readers of Linwood Barclay. It does appear that he is reasonably popular in UK libraries…
Barclay was at number 50 on lending figures for 2011.
And Trust Your Eyes has been reviewed on British TV recently .
I will admit that I have yet to read Barclay’s Trust Your Eyes, or A Tap on the Window (and the last of his Zack Walker ones), so perhaps I can still find something to rave about.
And he is an easy read….
But please Barclay, let’s have some new viewpoints.
You seem like a likeable guy, which is why, I suspect, I carry on reading your books…
Perhaps I should just take some time off from Linwood Barclay boredom and read a few short stories from someone else (anyone but Barclay!). I might then arrive at the next Zack Walker novel feeling refreshed….
But this is feeling like a marathon now, and one I have to finish.