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NO SAFE HOUSE
by Linwood Barclay
Doubleday Canada, August 2014
464 pages
$22.95 CAD
ISBN: 0385669615


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Seven years after Barclay's first (and enormously successful) thriller NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, the author returns to the scene of that crime, suburban Connecticut, and to the family at the centre of that book, Terry and Cynthia Archer and their daughter Grace.

To recap briefly: when Cynthia (then Bigge) was fourteen, she sneaked off to take a walk on the wild side with Vince Fleming, local bad boy and two years her senior. Her father found out and chased after her, pulling her out of Vince's car and dragging her home. The next morning, nursing a hangover, Cynthia stumbles downstairs to find her entire family gone. She never sees them again. Some twenty-five years later, she is still troubled by the suspicion that it was her misbehaviour that somehow caused them to vanish. She talks her husband, Terry, a schoolteacher, into launching an investigation into what might have happened, an investigation from which the pair and their young daughter barely escape with their lives.

Now it is seven years on. Grace is now the same age as her mother was when the familial nightmare began and she is chafing at her parents' excessive protectiveness. Predictably enough, she meets up with a boy much like Vince Fleming, who decides to steal a Porsche and breaks into a house to get the keys. At that point, a complex set of relationships begins to emerge among what is, for a city the size of Milford, a surprisingly large number of crooks and gangsters, a network that will enclose the Archers almost before they know what hit them.

Some of the surviving characters from the earlier book turn up once again - there's Jane Scavullo, Terry's former student and Vince's foster daughter. There's Rona Wedmore, the black police detective and still on the Milford force. And, of course, at the centre of things is Vince himself, now seriously ailing but still a considerable force. Terry and Cynthia both owe Fleming a debt - without him, they might both be dead. But he's terrifyingly violent and far from predictable. The line that Terry, in particular, would have liked to draw between himself as law-abiding high school teacher and the lawless underpinning of his decorous hometown that he increasingly encounters is blurring fast.

Here we are on familiar, if still effective, ground for Barclay. He specializes in mining a suburban angst rooted in the suspicion that the leafy streets and tidy homes sit atop a subterranean fault line that constantly threatens to split wide open and engulf their earnest and respectable citizens in unexpected anarchy.

He is particularly good at situating the threat in the teenaged characters, who behave in that familiar and maddening combination of reckless daring and moral superiority most parents of adolescents will recognize instantly. Grace in this case does something thoroughly foolish yet almost sweetly naive. When she learns what she may be responsible for, she has to be almost physically restrained from rushing off to the authorities to confess while her exasperated but loving father does what he can to protect her.

What he can do, of course, only leads to greater peril in a twisty, clever plot which will keep the reader avidly turning pages. NO SAFE HOUSE is perfectly titled. Suburban safety is only apparent. At any moment it may fail. No house can be absolutely safe from the tides of crime and corruption that may ebb and flow but are always somewhere. It's a grim vision but in this case leavened by a certain wry humour and by the fundamental decency of many of its characters. Returning to the scene of a previous success is not always a wise course for an author, but in this case Barclay has produced a novel that will not disappoint anyone who enjoyed NO TIME FOR GOODBYE.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, July 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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