Mike Harris Made Me Eat My Dog, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Long have I been a fan of Linwood Barclay and his collection of psychological thrillers, particularly because he is Canadian. Before he got into the world of thrillers, Barclay worked and wrote for newspapers in Ontario, using his wit and dry humour to impress many a reader. Those who did not live in Ontario in the mid-1990s would likely not have been privy to the wonders of Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution, when the Progressive Conservatives returned to power and sought to tighten the provincial belt. These measures did not go over well with many, including the media, who mocked some of the lame-brain ideas that did not make sense to anyone. Barclay explores the Harris revolution and the silliness that the Government of Ontario’s ideas meant in the real world through a series of chapters that drip with sarcasm. From cutting money to education (scrapping textbooks too) and trying to say that teachers were refusing to be inventive; offering tax breaks to many across the province and then trying to tackle a deficit (hoping that it would all work somehow); and even trying to nip environmental costs to safe a buck and wondering why Ontarians could not pick up the slack. Barclay’s mockery is just that, poking fun, but he makes some great points and leaves the reader interested in what there is to say on the topic. While I did not live in the province during the height of these tumultuous times, I always enjoy a good piece of political mockery. It’s surely a dated piece and one whose audience may be solely those who lived through or remembered the Common Sense Revolution, but I needed something lighter and it did the trick. Linwood Barclay shows that underneath that eerie writer would can pull a reader in with a stellar psychological thriller looms a man who is destined to poke a little fun at poor decisions by the government.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for a lighter look at politics. This book, paired with your more recent piece on Rob Ford, were the ideal short political satire pieces that kept me smiling.

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

Ford AbomiNation, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

My experience with Linwood Barclay has solely been with his stellar novels of fiction and intrigue. Before he became a bestselling author, Barclay was a humour writer for a Toronto newspaper. This piece, full of dry wit and sarcasm (my language!), has Barclay using his sharp pen (and tongue) to offer some analysis of what is going on in Ontario with Premier Doug Ford. While readers are best to have some foreknowledge of the Ford Nation and Ontario politics, the humour-filled narrative is enough to fill in many of the gaps any outsider has in their understanding. Barclay, pulls no punches as he mocks, teases, and lightheartedly dismantles the current Progressive Conservative leader’s ideas and acts, listing all those who are on the hit list for reasons unknown. As autistic students suffer his budgetary pen and vehement speeches, the sex education curriculum would have Ward Cleaver tipping is pipe towards Ford. Ontario’s forests beware, as there is a massive extension to Toronto’s subways needed to get to the Ford summer cottage, and books… who reads them and so why should we offer publishing incentives? Barclay shows that Ford is Canada’s Trump (and yes, the premier has a degree from Trump University), willing to do what he thinks and with sycophants lapping up his every word. With a similarly indoctrinating premier here in Alberta, we are surely on our way to a similar demise, set to be the laughing stock of left and centre-right Canadians before long. Recommended to those who need a humorous boost, as well as the reader who wants to explore some of the lighter parts of Canadian provincial politics.

This is a short piece, just over 100 printed pages (and close to 2 hours of audio). For the reader who needs to sit back, the audiobook is read by Linwood Barclay himself, who injects all the humour from off the page. In a zippy narrative, Barclay lays out all his arguments and wraps them in sarcasm, such that any Ford officials would be tied-up for days to see that they are the brunt of jokes. Short chapters handle a variety of topics that allows this to be read in a single sitting, while leaving them feeling better educated, or at least protected from all the dastardly ideas that spew from Queen’s Park (Ontario’s legislature) until the Ontario electorate is able to offer their voice on what is going on. While Barclay might have penned this to offer staunch mockery, his seriousness cannot be lost on the attentive reader. Proof positive why I enjoy Linwood Barclay’s writing so much. Fiction or non-, I cannot get enough!

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for giving me a few giggles as I shake my head from out West! God help us if you, or another, seek to develop something about our Jason Kenney!

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

Elevator Pitch, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

I was pleased to get my hands on the latest Linwood Barclay novel, as I find the author never fails to keep me thinking throughout a reading experience. Barclay turns the relatively mundane elevator into a masterful inanimate antagonist in this piece that may leave readers debating whether to ‘take the stairs’ next time. It was a Monday like any other in New York City, until it wasn’t. When an elevator plummets in a Manhattan office tower, four are dead and Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Headley is forced to do some damage control. In the Office of the Mayor, anyone who can seeks to spin this and turn it on poor inspector records, though there is barely any time to breathe before new fires emerge. A gritty journalist, Barbara Matheson, wants answers and Headley’s head on a platter. She rushes to the scene and discovers a personal tie to the accident, one she was not expecting. Meanwhile, NYPD Detectives Bourque and Delgado are called to the scene of a body found by a jogger. They run the few leads they have and identify the victim as an elevator repairman, but there is still no clear motive for his murder. When another elevator plummets on Tuesday, all eyes turn to Mayor Headley, who is scrambling to keep his city at ease while wondering what is going on. Further acts of violence, including a bombing and yet another elevator mishap lead some to wonder if this is the work of a domestic terror organization seeking to push their message out however they can. When it is discovered that someone has planted cameras in all the elevators that crashed, new theories about how one might be able to ‘remotely control’ the elevators emerges, only fuelling the idea that this might be a form of terrorism. Barbara Matheson works her magic and finds a parallel between all three locations of the elevator malfunctions, which could cause havoc if it’s released too soon. While the world watches, New Yorkers are left paralyzed as all elevators are shut down by decree of the mayor. Political suicide, perhaps, but there has to be an answer somewhere in all of this. Barclay offers a thrilling ride that will leave all readers a little less certain about what they would do when arriving in a lobby of a multi-storey building. Recommended to those who love a good thriller, as well as readers who are longtime fans of Linwood Barclay.

I can usually count on Linwood Barclay to serve up a wonderful novel that will send chills up my spine and cause many of my brain synapses to spark. His ideas are well plotted, though there is usually a twist or two that could not have been predicted. With a wide cast of characters, it is hard to choose a single as the protagonist. The reader can learn a little more about Detective Jerry Bourque and the personal struggles he has on the job, while trying to solve this murder, or they might want to focus their attention on Mayor Headley, who is always keen on spinning things to go in his direction. The character development of Barbara Matheson is intriguing, both from a personal and professional angle. She has a gritty nature to her, but it is surely one the reader will enjoy, given the opportunity to envelop themselves in her backstory. There are many other characters from which the reader can choose when focussing their attention. Some may say this multi-layer story can distract the reader, but I find that it all connects together on some level and serves to permit a variety of views on a single, large event. The entertainment factor is high yet again, as Barclay uses this multi-character approach, pulling the reader in deeper. The story itself was quite ingenious, taking something as simple as an elevator and turning it into a weapon. The plot moves along well,, not rushing but also not dragging, as Barclay seeks to give the reader something to ponder while the story advances. With a mix of chapter lengths and just the right amount of suspense built in, the reader can follow as the narrative gathers momentum. There is certainly a great pace here and I can only hope readers find themselves as enthralled as I was in this piece. I may stay away from elevators for a while… or take the risk!

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for another great novel. I can always count on a wonderful story when you are at the helm.

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

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

Parting Shot (Promise Falls #4), by Linwood Barclay

Nine stars

Linwood Barclay adds to his already popular Promise Falls series with this latest novel, a mystery that takes readers on an interesting ride into the world of revenge. When Cal Weaver is hired to protect Jeremy Pilford, who was accused of backing over his girlfriend when extremely intoxicated, he cannot predict the degree of difficulty this assignment brings. Seen as having been coddled by his over-protective family, Jeremy earned the nickname ‘Big Baby’ and has been the victim of significant online mockery. The barbs that have sailed around through social media are beginning to take shape in real life, with rocks tossed through windows and death threats showing up in various forms. Weaver decides to help shield Jeremy by taking him into protective custody, at least until things settle down. Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth is sent to investigate an assault that has everyone very confused. Brian Gaffney has been found wandering around Promise Falls, unable to remember what’s happened to him for the past few days. What’s even more concerning is the vulgar phrase that has been tattooed to his back; something apparently related to a dog he killed years ago. As Duckworth begins poking around, he discovers that Gaffney was last seen in a dive bar, though video surveillance sheds some interesting new light on the entire investigation. Nothing seem to make sense, but Duckworth will not give up, even as he seems to be stepping on some familial toes by pressing hard to solve this latest case. When a body is discovered in an abandoned car, things take a significant turn and Duckworth notices an anomaly that might explain the Gaffney assault. While Cal Weaver hides away with Jeremy, they revisit some of the key aspects to the case and something does not seem right. When Duckworth and Weaver are eventually able to compare notes, everything gets a little clearer, only to go opaque once again. Is there something going on in Promise Falls that will halt both Duckworth and Weaver from solving their respective cases? In a style all his own, Barclay pulls the reader into the middle of this wonderful story and will not let go until the very end, where a cliffhanger awaits. Promise Falls series fans will surely enjoy this one, which stands outside the professed ‘trilogy’, but still has close tie-ins throughout the narrative.

I have long been a Linwood Barclay fan, especially his Promise Falls work. The psychological aspects keep me wondering and the slow development is done in such a methodical manner than I cannot help but want more, even when the final chapter is complete. The varied cast in the novels is effectively used, with a strong focus on the Duckworth and Weaver characters. Both men have made their marks in the aforementioned series trilogy, but this novel allows them some additional growth. Barclay surrounds them with a number of repeat minor characters, as well as some new faces to keep the story fresh. Backstories and present-day development is thorough and highly useful to the attentive reader. The story itself, two mysteries that soon find common ground, is quite intriguing, especially with the other branch-off plots that thicken the overall delivery. Barclay is able to keep the different narratives running in parallel without confusing the reader too much. Add to that, things flow so effortlessly that the reader cannot help but want to forge onwards just to see how it will all play out. Wonderfully presented and filled with a number of poignant references to past Promise Falls events, Barclay has surely kept his fans appeased with this novel and is sure to find many new readers rushing to find his books in their various forms.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for keeping me hooked from the get-go. I hope you have not ended this trip to upstate New York, as I have become quite fond of Promise Falls.

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