Linwood Barclay, ‘A Tap on the Window’ (2013)

This is the first of Linwood Barclay’s novels that I’ve read, although I was familiar with the name; I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of A Tap on the Window from Graeme Williams at Orion, who publish the book next month.

At close to 500 pages, I was initially concerned that it was over-long. Thankfully, it wasn’t the slog that I feared, and I raced through it in a couple of days. Barclay’s protagonist is Cal Weaver, a former cop turned private investigator. So far, so conventional – and yet what initially endeared me to Weaver was his resolutely blue-collar client base. When we meet him at the beginning of the book, he’s working for a butcher concerned that one of his staff is stealing from him. ‘So maybe I wasn’t on the trail of the Maltese Falcon or some missing plutonium,’ Weaver drawls. ‘In the real world of private investigation, it was food, or building materials, or gas, or cars, or trucks that got ripped off.’ Weaver also has a refreshingly bullshit-free attitude to his job. ‘It wasn’t rocket science. It was sitting around and staying awake.’

Well, not for long. The tap on the window of the title comes when Weaver picks up a teenage hitchhiker, who claims to have been a friend of his son, Scott. Weaver and his wife are in the midst of grieving Scott’s recent drugs-related death, and it is his guilt (along with the possibility that the girl might know something) that steers Weaver towards helping her. However, it quickly becomes clear that Weaver is being used, and when a body is found events spiral quickly out of control.

The plot moves along at a swift pace, and there’s plenty of incident to keep the novel moving. However, what I particularly liked about the book – and gave it more depth – was the relationship between Weaver and his wife, and the difficulty they have in coming to terms with the death of their son. This is painted very tenderly, and their gradual reconciliation through the book makes the final climax all the more tragic. Whilst Weaver does uncover the truth about Scott’s death, this knowledge comes at a high personal cost, both to him and those around him.

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