August 2009

When a child disappears

By Linwood Barclay
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Several years ago, Canadian writer Linwood Barclay was having breakfast with his teenage daughter when she posed a question guaranteed to give any parent heart palpitations. “Dad,” she asked, “Suppose you came to pick me up at my job, and found I’d never worked there?”

It was a scenario Barclay found truly disturbing—and equally irresistible. He took the idea and ran amok with it, creating a parent’s worst nightmare and a mystery reader’s delight with his new thriller, Fear the Worst.

Barclay is a well-respected author whose success has been much greater outside the United States. Too Close to Home was a number one bestseller in England, and also won the Best Novel category of the Arthur Ellis Awards, Canada’s top prize for crime fiction. Now with Fear the Worst, which Barclay calls his “best book yet,” the writer may finally receive similar attention and acclaim from readers in the U.S.

Tim Blake is a divorced dad with a lot of charm but no head for business. His only child, a 19 year-old daughter named Sydney, lives with him during the summer. The previous year, she spent those three months working at the car dealership where Tim is a salesman; this year, Sydney has taken a job as a desk clerk at the Just Inn Time, a cinder-block budget motel where the rooms are clean but the “complimentary breakfast” is free largely because no one really wants stale muffins and bad coffee.

Tim and Sydney have an altercation over breakfast which causes her to leave in a huff for work. But when she doesn’t return that evening, a worried Tim begins calling her friends, hoping the argument is the reason Sidney hasn’t come home. When Sidney’s not back by the next morning, now frantic, he races to the Just Inn Time to see if she’s shown up for work, only to be met with blank stares. No one has seen her, no one knows her, and no, Sydney doesn’t work there. Never has.

“When I got back to the house, it was empty.
Syd did not come home that night.
Or the next night.
Or the night after that.”

These events comprise only 14 pages of this 400-page book, which has all the twists, turns and thrills of a good roller coaster ride, compelling anyone who picks it up to keep reading. In addition to its intricate plot, one of the book’s best qualities is the balance between what is and what is not important when a child goes missing. In his quest to find Sydney, Tim discovers things about his daughter that might have sent him reeling before her disappearance: she drinks when she parties, some of her friends are “wild,” and she might be pregnant. But put in the context of her disappearance—and possible murder—they pale in importance.

“At least it would mean she was okay. That she was alive. I could welcome home a pregnant daughter if there was a pregnant daughter to welcome home.”

It’s not long before a pregnant daughter would be one of the best case scenarios Tim could possibly imagine. By the book’s end, some may feel Barclay has put too many twists and turns in his story; others may be disappointed by its fairly predictable conclusion. But the majority of readers will find Fear the Worst nearly impossible to put down, savoring every bit of this satisfying suspense novel right up to the very last page.

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Fear the Worst

Fear the Worst

By Linwood Barclay
ISBN 9780553807165

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