Wednesday, October 21

Bad Move - Linwood Barclay

Zack Walker moved his family from the city, where they were perfectly happy but at risk from dangers on every corner, to the safe 'burbs. Despite his caution and his warnings, neither Sarah, his journalist wife, nor his two teenagers Angie and Paul exercise any kind of wariness, and Zack is forced to frighten them into realising that they can't be so cavalier. His first lesson is borne from frustration at the dumping of school bags at the top of the stairs, where anyone could fall and break their necks - he pretends to do so, little suspecting his shocked children would call both their mother at work and the ambulance service, causing the whole exercise to backfire on Zack. Despite the family outrage he created, when Zack comes home to find Sarah's car open in the driveway, keys still in the ignition, he only briefly considers leaving it alone before driving the car around the block, a move that serves only to anger her and unite the kids in opposition.
In fairness, when Zack goes shopping with Sarah and sees her handbag left in the supermarket trolley while she's turned away he debates with himself before lifting her wallet - it's for her own good, after all. He's shocked to discover that Sarah's listened to all his cautioning and is being more careful - her wallet is secure. The wallet belonged to someone else, and Zack's a thief rather than a protector. Unable to admit what he's done to his family, and learning that the victim of his lesson didn't report the theft, he tries to return the belongings himself. But things go from bad to worse, as Zack finds himself helplessly and increasingly embroiled in real estate skulduggery and murder.
I really, really enjoyed Bad Move. An SF novelist with few hits - Missionary, his tale of aliens who come to earth to convert us, being a rare exception and curiously popular among fundamentalists - Zach loves collectibles and procrastination.Between my own habits and the interests of friends I could instantly relate, and Barclay has a great voice that brought me in from the first line:
For years, I envied my friend Jeff Conklin,who, at the age of eleven, found a dead guy.
It sets up the whole novel and tells you a lot about our narrator. Zack's a flawed but appealing character, who's quite open about his shortcomings. Early on he says:
You won't get very far in this before you start thinking that I am, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. At the very least, a jerk. I don't happen to think I'm an asshole, but I'm also willing to acknowledge your typical asshole's not blessed in the self-awareness department.
But he means well, and that makes up for a multitude of shortcomings. The characters are clearly drawn and genuine, the plot is unique and interesting, and the writing's great.
I saw Barclay's most recent novel in a bookshelf and thought I'd try his earlier work first. I'm sold, and will be reading more. - Alex
ETA: When looking through his backlist I discovered I have already encountered a previous work by Barclay, the promising (but sadly disappointing) No Time for Goodbye. I'm so pleased to have enjoyed this work, and reminded again of my sadness at the fatal flaw in his other novel.

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