Sunday, December 13

Too Close to Home - Linwood Barclay

Derek Cutter is excited at the prospect of his neighbours, the Langleys, going on holiday - their empty house will be the perfect trysting spot for him and his girlfriend, provided he can hide in the house before they leave. Not even his friend Adam knows that he plans to hide in the basement storage cupboard, and though he feels a little guilty at deceiving his friend it's easily outweighed by the prospect of space and time to just be with Penny. But after a seamless start, successfully pretending to leave Adam and his parents to their packing but really squeezing into the crawl space, everything falls apart. First Penny's grounded, then the Langleys come home because Mrs Langley has a stomach upset. And then the entire family is murdered.
Jim Cutter lives with his wife and adolescent son down a laneway that you could easily miss if you didn't know it was there. He mows lawns for a living, and despite the derision his work inspires in some, he enjoys it. His wife is an academic, her boss (and former lover) a literary success on the back of his first - and, to date, only - novel, and Jim still resents his rival even though Ellen swears it was a mistake and all over.
Jim's heartsick when he learns about the deaths of his neighbour, a criminal defense lawyer, his wife and son. Promise Falls isn't the kind of place you expect such tragedies. When no direct motive can be found Jim has to ask himself how well he really knew the family. But how well does he really know his own family? And what if the Langley's weren't the real targets?
The writing is brisk, the plot interestingly but not confusingly twisty. The Derek section is a third-person prologue, contrasting with the first person narration of the rest of the novel, allowing the reader to have knowledge Jim only discovers part way through the chain of events and adding a layer of interest.
I had some trouble with Jim's unwillingness to resolve his issues over his wife's affair - he forgives her but can't let go of his resentment and dislike, which is understandable but continually interferes with anyone's willingness to take his suspicions seriously. A statement I know is vague, but more specificity would spoil the plot.
However, my biggest issue is that the heart of the novel is a secret left concealed because of fear that its revelation would be compromising, even though it's obvious people will be hurt. This was only a minor quibble, but it did grate a little. However, over all Too Close to Home is an intriguing premise well executed. - Alex

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