Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pierce’s Picks: “A Tap on the Window”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

A Tap on the Window, by Linwood Barclay (NAL):
This is one of those stories in which nothing seems to go right. Ever. Start at the very beginning, when middle-aged private eye Cal Weaver makes what he realizes right away is a terrible mistake, picking up a blond teenage girl who’s hitchhiking outside a bar in the (fictional) Niagara River town of Griffon, in upstate New York. It turns out she knew Weaver’s only son, Scott, who’d died not long before this in a fall--presumably a suicidal leap, while he was hopped up on drugs--from the roof of a local furniture store. The girl’s name is Claire Sanders, and she’s hoping Weaver will wheel her home on this rain-soaked night. However, partway there she asks him to stop by a landmark ice cream and burger joint, saying her stomach “feels a little weird all of a sudden.” When she doesn’t return to his car right away, Weaver goes looking for her ... only to find her snugged back in his passenger seat. He quickly realizes, though, that it’s not Claire. Yeah, she looks like her, but this girl’s a phony. A stand-in wearing a wig. Weaver confronts this second girl as they drive, but before he can learn what’s really going on, the teenager leaps out of his car and disappears into darkness.

The next day, when Weaver learns that Claire is missing, along with the girl who replaced her in his car, Hanna Rodomski, he takes it upon himself--out of guilt as well as curiosity--to join the search. Not that Claire’s father, Griffon’s mayor, wants him involved; in fact, he denies that Claire is actually missing. Officers of the Griffon Police Service are equally unenthusiastic over Weaver’s involvement in the investigation. Nonetheless, the P.I. keeps asking questions, in the course of that inciting the ire of his brother-in-law, Griffon Police Chief Augustus Perry, and drawing the attention of people who’d very much like to see Weaver pitched over Niagara Falls. Without a barrel.

Then Hanna is found. Dead and perhaps raped.

So why did Claire Sanders feel it was important to vanish, putting her friend Hanna’s health at risk as a consequence? Why do local cops appear to be watching Claire’s father’s house so intently? And who is behind the wheel of a black pickup that Weaver is sure has been following him as he probes these and other mysteries? For Weaver to locate Claire, he’ll have to find answers to these questions. Along the way, he’ll also rip the scabs off a few of his town’s closely held secrets and discover that everything he thought he understood about his troubled son’s death was wrong.

Barclay, a former columnist for the Toronto Star, has earned a handsome following over the last decade by penning twist-driven thrillers (including last year’s Trust Your Eyes). He demonstrates his familiar skills here in escalating tensions, raising doubts about characters involved in the case, and propelling readers forward with cliffhanger chapter endings. Although he could have spared his protagonist a bit of agony at the end, and still produced a work of suspense that was somewhat higher in literary quality than its competition (really, it’s a wonder that Weaver doesn’t commit himself to an insane asylum by Chapter 67), A Tap on the Window offers a story the reader won’t easily forget, one sure to burnish Barclay’s cred as a concocter of top-shelf suspense fiction. You might say that’s the only right thing that results from his plotting this novel.

1 comment:

Tom K Mason said...

The beginning, with the switched girl in the backseat of the car, sounds a little like Howard Browne's Thin Air. http://goo.gl/StO80