Wednesday, September 23, 2015


NEVER SAW IT COMING by Linwood Barclay (Orion, 2013)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A good story from a great writer about a scam artist who gets more than she bargained for with her latest psychic reading

Linwood Barclay is possibly the best in the business when it comes to 'suburban noir' - for several years he's been crafting exciting tales of ordinary people (well, interesting people with somewhat ordinary occupations or lives) who get caught up in danger and intrigue.

Often the person has the danger thrust into their lives by others, unwittingly, but in the case of NEVER SAW IT COMING, Barclay's central character Keisha Ceylon brings the trouble upon herself.

Keisha is a psychic. That's what she tells the grieving families she 'helps' with her gift, helping them out of plenty of money at the same time. In reality, she's a scam artist, scouring the news for potential victims, inserting herself into their lives at their most vulnerable moments, offering comfort, an explanation, closure, even hope. For a fee, of course.

But when Keisha targets a man she sees distraught on TV after his wife disappeared for a big payday, he sees right through her act, and that reality now puts Keisha in grave danger, having to rely on former co-conspirators and an untrustworthy layabout of a boyfriend to survive. Karma for the con artist...

This is another slick and smoothly told tale from Barclay, who draws us into Keisha's world and creates a great 'I want to know what happens' narrative drive despite a rather dislikable cast of characters. A converted novella, NEVER SAW IT COMING is a lot shorter than Barclay's usual fare, and perhaps for that reason it at times seems a little shallower than his other works when it comes to character and setting. There is plenty of action and intrigue, and some colourful characters, without quite delving to his usual depth.

I was certainly absorbed by this tale, but it never quite gelled for me, perhaps because of the high standards I usually expect from Barclay. Good rather than great, compared to his other work, although there was a lot I liked about NEVER SAW IT COMING - it is an enjoyable read. Keisha is a rather well-drawn character, and there is no reason that less than likable characters can't be the spine of a great story. Most of the time, she works well as the centrepiece - although she's a scam artist and a bit of a scumbag, we can also feel for her and understand why she does what she does, trying to care for her son and scrabble for a better life.

But for whatever reason, I never felt fully engaged with her plight, as I have with Barclay's other novels. The tale has plenty of exciting and surprising twists, and delivers on a number of levels, but for me it's more of a double than a home run, from an author who's a big-time home run hitter.

Worth a read as a fun palate cleanser between his meatier tales.

I originally read this book back in 2013, and have reviewed it here on Crime Watch now as part of an ongoing project of longer, more in-depth reviews of books I've covered in shorter form elsewhere. 

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