What should I read on a rainy bank-holiday Monday? Linwood Barclay’s latest novel seemed like a good choice (I enjoyed No Time For Goodbye and Too Close to Home), and by the end of the day I agreed with myself, having spent a vicariously exciting few hours.
The plot is very simple and chillingly effective. Single-parent Tim Blake argues with his teenage daughter Sydney at breakfast, over the trivial question of how she managed to afford a pair of designer sunglasses. Sydney storms off to the hotel where she is working over the summer, and Tim himself leaves for work at the car lot where he is a salesman. That night, however, Sydney doesn’t come home. When Tim goes to the hotel to look for her, the staff have never heard of her – or seen anyone like the girl in the photo that Tim desperately shows them.
The rest of the book tells the nightmare story of how an ordinary man with money troubles and whose ex-wife has taken up with someone else (gallingly, a much more successful car salesman) tries to find the most important person in his life – his daughter – as well as hold his life together, and keep his home and job. The tension is literally nail biting as Tim, a decent man, receives emails via the “Find Sydney” website one of his daughter’s friends has set up for him, and follows them up, being crushed when they turn out to be fruitless leads. Eventually, a message arrives that seems to be genuine, or is it only going to cause Tim more grief?
The book races along, with friends and neighbours, customers at the car lot, and assorted leads all fleshing out Tim’s despair as his life seems to be spiralling out of control. The relationship between Tim and his ex-wife Suzie, and in the latter part of the book her new partner Bob, is particularly well drawn. The climax of the novel is very exciting, and there are a couple of good twists, but although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I felt that the gangster element somewhat detracted from the baroque domestic hell and sleazy business rivalries that were so convincingly portrayed up until the final couple of chapters.