Barclay takes a “Parting Shot” at his Promise Falls series
As a kid, New York Times best-selling author Linwood Barclay loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. He loved them so much, he couldn’t wait for the next episode, so he wrote his own.
“By the time I was in seventh grade, I was typing 40-page novellas of my favorite shows. That got me fired up. TV really captured my imagination,” said Barclay, 62, of Canada, whose latest novel, Parting Shot, debuted October 31.
Barclay majored in English at Trent University in Ontario. There, he began a correspondence with his favorite novelist, Ross Macdonald, author of the Lew Archer series.
“I had dinner with him one night when I was 21. He was my greatest influence… When I was 15, I read The Goodbye Look and something changed,” recalled Barclay. “I don’t even think I was aware of this at the time, but when I look back, I think, Here’s someone who’s using the conventions of a crime novel and doing more with it, talking about dysfunctional families and the corruption of wealth, all these interesting topics… (It) touched a nerve at some unconscious level. That was a watershed moment, discovering his books.”
For 25 years, Barclay worked as a journalist, writing for the Peterborough Examiner and then The Toronto Star, Canada’s premier newspaper. At the Star, he wrote a column three times a week for 14 years, while writing novels.
The result was the series of comedic mysteries—Bad Move, Bad Guys, Lone Wolf, and Stone Rain—featuring reporter/science-fiction writer Zack Walker. Barclay stated that the plot for Bad Move was inspired when grocery-shopping with his wife.
“As she’s wont to do, she left her purse in the baby-seat of the cart and wandered down the aisle. I thought, Why don’t I toss my wallet in with it, so whoever comes by to steal it can have everything? Then I thought, Wouldn’t it be great to ‘steal’ her purse and put it in the car? She’d be so traumatized thinking she had everything stolen, she’d never leave her purse unguarded again. I decided against it because I wanted to live,” he said, laughing. “I developed Zack, who’s this anal-retentive, anxiety-ridden, safety freak. I’d like to say Zack is basically me unchecked. I have the same anxieties he has, but not to his degree. I had great fun writing those four books, but they weren’t very popular.”
However, the series was released this year for the first time in England.
“At the time I wrote those, I’d been writing my humor column for 10 years, so writing a comic thriller seemed the logical way to go,” said Barclay. “But unless you’re Janet Evanovich…funny thrillers are not hugely popular, (so) I shifted gears.”
Writing 2007’s No Time for Goodbye, his breakout novel, was a game-changer. Nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award and the Barry Award, it was short-listed as best novel by the International Thriller Writers. It also allowed Barclay to write books full-time.
The majority of Barclay’s novels occur in the fictitious town of Promise Falls, New York. His most ambitious project was 2015-16’s “Promise Falls Trilogy”: Broken Promise, Far From True, and The Twenty-Three. In it, he reintroduces characters from previous novels as mass chaos erupts.
Parting Shot occurs after the trilogy, featuring Detective Barry Duckworth and private eye Cal Weaver. When a girl’s killed by a drunken driver, the accused—a kid himself—gets off with a light sentence, infuriating the community, so Weaver’s hired to protect him.
Meanwhile, Duckworth investigates a murder leading him to an accused pedophile who was found not guilty. However, someone administered justice by castrating and disfiguring him. Duckworth learns that his and Weaver’s cases are connected in an elaborate plot.
“I had two different ideas dovetailing into that book. In the opening chapter, there’s this poor soul wandering into the police station who thinks he’s been abducted by aliens and has this missing time and thinks he was subjected to all these experiments. When they look on his back, they find he has this grisly tattooed message. So I had this idea of this guy with a message tattooed on his back and didn’t know it,” explained Barclay.
He leaves several plot threads from the trilogy and Parting Shot unresolved.
“Not everything gets wrapped up in life. Once in a while, I don’t mind leaving a little strand or two dangling,” said Barclay. “If it’s not the main story, I don’t mind leaving one strand out there. But I don’t think it’s a strong enough plot thread that warrants coming back to in another book. I think all the main things are done. Even on the last page (of Parting Shot), we don’t know what happened but I think we have a pretty good idea.”
Barclay talked about creating Duckworth, introduced in 2008’s Too Close to Home. What makes Duckworth different is that he isn’t tortured like many cops in popular fiction—they have a drinking problem, they accidentally shot a kid, their marriage is ruined.
“Barry is a reaction to all the gimmicks we lay on fictional detectives,” said Barclay. “He’s just a regular guy. Many people tell me how much they love him.”
In turn, Weaver, introduced in 2013’s A Tap on the Window, has a tragic past.
“Cal doesn’t give a (expletive) anymore. He still has a sense of honor and doing the right thing, but he doesn’t personally care about himself anymore. I think there’s this sense of fearlessness that comes out of just not giving a damn,” said Barclay.
Parting Shot is Barclay’s last Promise Falls novel.
“I just think it’s time to try something new. My next two ideas really only work as standalones, not part of a series,” he said.
Chase, Barclay’s first book for kids, debuted earlier this year. He introduces Chipper, a dog who’s part of a top-secret experiment to create the ultimate canine spy technology.
“I woke up one night with this great idea for a dog that was part computer, the product of a secret institute that used dogs in surveillance. I knew instantly it was a kids’ book, not an adult one, but it was such a great idea I didn’t want to toss it. So I went ahead and wrote it. I actually started it five years ago, but then got involved in a huge rewrite (on Window) and had to set it aside,” said Barclay.
In 2018, Escape, the sequel to Chase, debuts, as does The Noise Downstairs, which introduces Paul Davis. One night, Paul comes across someone disposing of the bodies of two dead women. This man nearly kills Paul, too, now suffering from PTSD. To cope, he writes about it.
“As a gift to inspire him, his wife buys him a beautiful, vintage, antique typewriter. In the middle of the night, he begins to hear the distinctive sound of an old manual typewriter. But there’s nobody there,” said Barclay. “He comes to believe this typewriter is the same one the killer made the two women write notes on before he killed them. The question readers might have is whether this a supernatural story. Is he losing his mind? What the hell’s going on? His wife hears nothing, but he does. It’s a tough book to talk about because it’s got more twists in it than anything I’ve done in a long time.”
Barclay’s e-book, Never Saw It Coming, has been adapted into a film and The Accident into a six-part miniseries, both slated for a 2018 release.
“I’ve heard Linwood say he feels a lot of pressure as a writer, not to sell books but to make sure each novel is better than his last. He somehow always manages to pull that off. That’s why readers gobble up his Promise Falls series,” said author Anthony Franze. “I think Linwood’s work would make Ross Macdonald proud.”
Fellow author Hank Phillippi Ryan agreed.
“Linwood is the king of the suspense! I’m not sure how he continues to do it, but he surprises you on each page. In real life, he’s the best storyteller in the world and his whip-smart journalistic skill shines through in every novel. He’s an authentically good guy—a hard worker, devoted to his craft, incredibly generous, and a trusted friend,” said Ryan.
Barclay has often drawn comparison to Harlan Coben, who also started out writing comedic mysteries. Also, Coben hit it big with 2001’s Tell No One, his first novel on The New York Times bestseller list. It was also nominated for the Anthony Award, the Edgar Award, and the Barry Award.
As a result, Barclay’s called the “Canadian Coben,” which he takes as a compliment.
“When Harlan came up here one time, a friend of mine told him, ‘Well, you’re the American Linwood Barclay,’” recalled Barclay, laughing. “We work the same neighborhood—the domestic thriller genre—but we have different styles. I mean, Harlan’s fabulous… he’s selling a billion books compared to my fewer.”
Renowned novelist Stephen King has praised Barclay.
“Barclay is a terrific storyteller. I never miss one of his books,” King said in a statement.
When King wrote his column for Entertainment Weekly, he promoted Never Look Away. He wrote a blurb for Trust Your Eyes. In fact, the Whirl360, the fictitious website introduced in that book, was mentioned in King’s Doctor Sleep. In King’s The Bazaar of Broken Dreams, someone’s reading a Barclay novel.
“He’s a big fan! That blows my mind! We have a mutual-admiration thing going on. I’ve been a huge fan for a very, very long time,” said Barclay. “I feel very fortunate that my two favorite writers ever—Ross MacDonald and Stephen King—I’ve been able to make a personal connection with.”