A Noise Downstairs, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Linwood Barclay can always be relied upon to put forth exciting novels that creep up the spine, leaving the reader questioning what they’ve just read. His ability to develop a psychological thriller puts him in league with some of the top in the genre, thereby strengthening his fan base. Paul Davis is a college professor who was out on a late evening drive. After coming upon the vehicle of his colleague, Paul stops to help, only to be attacked and almost killed. Eight months later, Paul is trying to come to terms with the head injury he suffered that night, while his wife, Charlotte, must try to acclimate to her husband’s constant forgetfulness. She purchases an old typewriter for him, in hopes that it will help him process some of the feelings and thoughts that came from the attack. Paul has also engaged the services of a therapist, Dr. Anna White, who is helping him come to terms with the entire ordeal. When Paul wakes in the night, hearing a clacking sound that could be no other than the typewriter, he rushes to see, but there is nothing there. Worried, Charlotte tries to help her husband come to terms with what must be his subconscious brain playing tricks on him. Dr. White goes so far as to concur, hoping that her patient will find solace rather than constant distress with this new form of therapeutic release. Meanwhile, Dr. White has another patient whose past is indicative of severe and inexplicable revenge tendencies, seeking to topple the apple carts of many others for his own peace of mind. The more she tries to help, the less it appears to work. With Paul’s ongoing traumatic situation, now morphed into messages spewing from paper left in the typewriter at night, one can only surmise that there may be something supernatural happening, which is only further supported when it would appear that it was the same typewriter as the man who attacked Paul; someone who had forced previous victims to write letters of apology before he killed them. With all this coming to a head, Paul forges on to make sense of it all, while Charlotte becomes increasingly worried. Has her husband lost all touch with reality? Could his memory loss be responsible for him writing these messages at night, but not remembering? And how can one completely explain that noise of the typewriter clanking in the night? Barclay leaves these and many other questions with the reader, who will likely want to dive in to better understand what is going on. Another brilliant piece by a psychological thriller expert. Recommended for those who enjoy Linwood Barclay’s work or the reader who finds solace in a novel that poses multiple mind games.

I can usually be assured of a top-notch novel when Barclay publishes something and this piece was nothing short of stellar. The mix of well-developed characters, a plausible plot, and just a touch of King-esque paranormal activity (so much so that the characters actually refer to what is going on as having come from a King novel), leaves the reader wanting to push onwards as things get even more complicated. Paul Davis is a wonderfully relatable character who has been through a great ordeal and is only now able to pick up the pieces. He straddles the line between recovery and deeper psychological issues, though there is little doubt that current events with his new gift have pushed him further away from sanity. He struggles to understand it all, though has been able to turn to Anna White to help him. While this does not always work, the reader can see glimpses of sanity in his sporadic activities and memory-debilitating daily life. Anna White proves to be another key character, juggling her own personal issues alongside those of a handful of clients, all of whom pose different risks to themselves and others. The reader will likely find the White character to be very grounded, though also a bit standoffish, as is usually the case when processed through the eyes of a patient. Paul and Anna find themselves in an odd dance to better understand the former’s mental state and while outward signs point to issues, there is surely something else at play. A handful of other characters prop things up and thicken an already strong plot, adding questions and intrigue while riding the narrative’s easy flow. The story is one that might not be entirely unique—an inanimate object takes over and causes a protagonist angst—but the way it is presented in Barclay style leaves the reader to wonder how it all comes together. Things flow well and the story does not get too out of hand, though the reader need keep an open mind until the final chapters to understand what is going on. Barclay has mastered his craft again and it is up to the reader to decide if they are prepared to accept what is on offer.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for another wonderful novel. I can only hope your ideas continue to flow, as I have eagerly anticipated many of the pieces you’ve presented in the last numbers of years.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons