A Tap On The Window - Linwood Barclay

 7th July 2014

I must confess, that despite being a fan of the crime genre, I had never heard of Linwood Barclay before. However the author comes highly recommended by the legendary Stephen King.

Cal Weaver is a private investigator, working in a small town called Griffon. Cal is having problems with his wife Donna, as they both struggle to come to terms with their teenage son’s recent death. He is driving through town one rainy evening, and decides against all his better judgement to pick up a hitchhiker who taps on his window as his car is stopped outside a local bar. Upon learning the girl knew his recently deceased son, he decides to give her a lift home. Cal has been seeking answers from local teenagers on who provided the drugs which resulted in his son Scott taking a drug-induced dive from the roof of a local furniture shop to his death, and hopes this girl, Claire, may know something or someone.

She states that she is being followed by a mysterious individual, and Cal takes it upon himself to ensure her safety that evening. However after a pit-stop at a local burger bar, the girl who gets back into the car with Cal is definitely not Claire. She looks somewhat like her, but it is clear that a switch has taken place inside the place. When Cal eventually confronts the imposter, she demands to be allowed to exit the car in a shady part of town. Cal is reluctant but realises how it looks for him if he refuses to let her out of his car. She runs off into the night, and an investigation on his return to the burger bar, reveals Claire has vanished. Cal goes home after a confusing evening; it is certainly an intriguing opening to the novel.

Griffon, where Cal operates and where the majority of the story is set, is an hour or so away from crime-hub Buffalo in upstate New York. Despite this, the crime rate of Griffon is low in comparison. This is partly due to the strong-handed tactics of the local police, who hand out their own brand of justice to the local hoodlums. The police officers of Griffon are not shy at breaking teeth, blasting air-horns at ears, spraying paint into mouths, copping a feel etc. It is this overly heavy approach to law enforcement which has local mayor Bert Sanders outraged, and he is outspoken against Chief Perry, the man in charge. In spite of this, the police generally split the opinion of the local population. Some locals support the police who deter crime flooding in from neighbouring problem areas, while others feel the punishment doesn’t always fit the petty crime.

The strange events turn into a missing persons case for Cal, for personal reasons initially as the police question him as being the last person to see Claire. The police simply don’t believe his version of events, and Cal must find the girl to clear his own name. What follows is a delve into the dark and hidden side of Griffon as Cal investigates all the connections in the town to Claire, even those which bring a dead end; a good investigator examines all leads. There are definitely some people in the town who want Cal to drop the investigation, or maybe just drop dead. The fact that Claire just so happens to be the mayor’s daughter adds a little bit of spice.

The early chapters in my opinion are not as strong as the last two thirds of the book, hinting that the author was maybe in a rush to get to the heart of the plot. There are some turns of phrase which made me think that the author struggled to set the initial scene as he would have liked. An example of this, is when he mentions that Cal’s son Scott was:

“…more likely to have Beethoven than Bieber on his iPod”

This literally made me laugh out loud, mainly as I doubt that there are many teenage boys who have Bieber on their playlists. Or Beethoven for that matter; I could be wrong of course!

I also thought the author sometimes took too long to tell you some things, such as the exact circumstances of Scott’s death, or the relationship between Cal and Perry. This didn’t detract from the overall telling of the story though, just made you more determined to keep reading, which was probably the point.

As a fan of crime novels, I obviously loved the almost Marlowe-esque line:

“…when you work in private investigation, saying no to divorce work was like opening a donut shop and refusing to sell coffee.”

Cal comes across as having some qualities of an investigator in a hard-boiled crime novel albeit operating in the modern world: he is sarcastic, smart-assed towards people of authority, laughs in the face of danger, etc.

Every few chapters, there is some insight into a developing situation between a son, mother and father, unnamed until very late in the novel. We know that someone is keeping a very big secret, but we don’t know who! This is the cleverest aspect of the whole novel, as I was kept guessing for so long, and ultimately guessed wrong.

The author Linwood Barclay has painted a fairly believable picture of the wholesome town with a murky underbelly, and there are a few really surprising plot twists which I genuinely didn’t see coming. Every small town has at least someone with skeletons in the closet, and it is an exciting journey to go on with Cal in his reluctant investigation.

As per the competition rules, I must state that I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Rating:  4/5 stars

About the author:


Linwood Barclay was born in the United States, but just as he was turning four, his parents moved to Canada, settling in a Toronto suburb.

At the age of 22, Linwood got his first newspaper job, at the Peterborough Examiner.  In 1981, he joined the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper.  For twelve years he held a variety of editing positions, retiring from the paper in 2008 to write books full-time.

After writing comic thrillers, Linwood turned to darker, standalone novels, starting with No Time for Goodbye, which became an international hit.  The novel has been translated into nearly forty languages, was the single bestselling novel in the UK in 2008.