Friday, May 22, 2020


THE ACCIDENT by Linwood Barclay (Bantam, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Glen Garber, a contractor, has seen his business shaken by the housing crisis, and now his wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to increase her chances of landing a good-paying job. But she should have been home by now. With their eight-year-old daughter sleeping soundly, Glen soon finds his worst fears confirmed: Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident. 

Grieving and in denial, Glen resolves to investigate the accident himself—and begins to uncover layers of lawlessness beneath the placid surface of their Connecticut suburb, secret after dangerous secret behind the closed doors. Propelled into a vortex of corruption and illegal activity, pursued by mysterious killers, and confronted by threats from neighbours he thought he knew, Glen must take his own desperate measures and go to terrifying new places in himself to avenge his wife and protect his child.

Former Toronto Star columnist Barclay has established himself over the past dozen or so years as a modern master of ‘suburban terror’, penning tales where very ordinary people find themselves entwined in dangerous events that spiral out of control.

In this novel a man who owns a construction company has to juggle grief and anger after his wife dies in a car accident, while trying to protect his eight-year-old daughter from the fallout when blame is pointed his wife's way, then realises something very sinister is happening in his town. Barclay excels at delivering page-whirring storylines that hook you in and keep the tension redlined, while also providing plenty of emotional oomph in the family relationships and the gut-punch events.

Barclay has become so consistently excellent that perhaps we take him a little for granted.

Much has been made in recent years of the 'domestic noir' boom, but Barclay and the likes of Harlan Coben were already writing exquisite tales of ordinary people getting caught up in horrifying events many years before (and of course the 'trend' dates back throughout crime writing history, with practitioners like Patricia Highsmith being a master of psychological suspense entwined with everyday characters, or Daphne du Maurier beautifully capturing terror in a domestic setting).

THE ACCIDENT is one of those stay-up-all-night novels that draws you in not just for the exciting twists but the cares and fears Barclay engenders in the reader for the characters. As Glen investigates, trying to understand what has happened and why - the official version of his wife Sheila drink-driving and killing three people including herself makes no sense to him - another 'accidental' death occurs.

Barclay ramps up the pressure on our hero to the nth degree - his business is failing, his wife is dead and is being vilified, his daughter is being bullied and ostracised at school, his in-laws are butting in, he may be sued by the widow of the other accident victims. And his wife may have unwittingly been caught up with some very dangerous people - the kind for whom 'accidents' are viable solutions.

A very good read from a very good author.

This is an expanded version of a newspaper review I wrote of this book in late 2011. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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