Book review: The Accident by Linwood Barclay

The Accident
by Linwood Barclay
Orion, 2011.

Linwood Barclay’s books are among my favourite “comfort” reads, and The Accident is no exception – in fact I think it is his best book since his breakthrough novel No Time For Goodbye. Although Canadian by birth, Barclay writes a formulaic, but highly superior formulaic, American domestic novel showing the dark underbelly of the suburban dream. Not only that, but the books always slip down a treat – one has finished them before noticing, almost.

The Accident opens with the seemingly obligatory but unnecessary prologue set in Canal St, New York, where a trip by a couple of out-of-towners to buy fake designer handbags (purses) goes horribly wrong. The main novel is set in Connecticut, where builder Glenn is reeling from the death of his wife Sheila in a car accident. His main priority is his 8-year-old daughter Kelly. Not only does the girl have to cope with the death of her mother but she is being victimised at school because Sheila was drunk and caused the death of a parent and boy who also attended the same school. Kelly deals with her aggressive classmates by stomping on their feet. One has to note this – as this is one of those books where the reader is usually only informed of something if it is going to be significant for the plot.

The bulk of the novel concerns Glenn’s gradual realisation that his wife’s death may not have been an accident. More interesting, though, are the portraits of the neighbours, who are suffering through the after-effects of the crash of the US economy. People have lost their jobs, can’t pay off their sub-prime mortgages, and have a strong sense of entitlement about their constant shopping trips to the mall, flat-screen TVs and fancy cars. Glenn runs his own business and is struggling both with an employee and friend who wants advances on his salary to help with his debts; and the fact that a house he was building has burnt down. Will the insurance pay out? Glenn is worried, with cause, that the electrical subcontractor may have been using substandard materials, in which case Glenn will be liable.

There is a nice mix between the domestic and the crime plot. Kelly goes to a sleepover at her only friend’s house – the parents are not what they seem. Ann, the mother, has lost her job so now holds parties to sell cheap rate, fake designer goods. Belinda, another member of the circle, is desperately struggling in her real-estate business, and has taken up a sideline in selling prescription drugs, a horrible knock-on effect of the lack of a social welfare system such as we are lucky to have in western Europe, where people do not have to pay for their medicines if they cannot afford them.

Glenn is a nice guy if a bit slow on the uptake. He has to deal with gangsters as well as the mother-in-law from hell and a predatory neighbour who wants to snap him up now he is a widower. He’s worried about his business, especially as he comes to suspect he is being fooled into using cheap Chinese materials instead of solid American workmanship (it is a very patriotic book!).

This book is a nice one to read if you are feeling a bit under the weather or want to kill some time. It all hangs together perfectly well, and there are nested solutions that gradually reveal various different aspects of local crimes and criminals. Some of these will come as surprises to the reader, others will not. I enjoyed this novel because it suited my mood at the time. It isn’t great literature but it delivers the goods and is hard to put down once you are into it. If you enjoy books by authors such as Harlan Coben, I am sure you will enjoy this one.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of The Accident: Mean Streets, The Book Whisperer, The Guardian (brief), The Globe and Mail.

About the book at the author’s website, includes various additional features.

Video interview with the author at the publisher’s website.

My reviews of three of the author’s four earlier books: No Time For Goodbye, Fear the Worst, and Never Look Away. These books are “standalones”, not a series.