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.

14 thoughts on “Book review: The Accident by Linwood Barclay

  1. Ive not read any of his books but I have got quite a good feel of his style from your review. Jonathan Kellerman is my comfort read and although his books have a formulaic feel about them I like the characters. And I have the bonus that he seems to write book a year which I appreaciaite is not always a good thing.
    I tried Michael Connelly which I also know you like and I enjoyed him but I feel I have come to the series quite late and probably won’t read many more. I will try Linwood Barclay but I think he might fall in the same category.

    • Linwood Barclay is a good one to try as his books aren’t a series, Sarah. I used to love Jonathan Kellerman but after the first half dozen or so books felt that they plunged too low to read any more – such a pity after a great start. I think Connelly is better if you’ve read him from the start, and probably is not everyone’s cup of tea.

  2. I like your expression ‘the books always slip down a treat’ – it makes me think of eating oysters (not that I’ve ever eaten them myself – just watched other people). And yes, I think we all need a good comfort read now and again – so it’s good to know Linwood Barclay is a suitable candidate. I hope you feel better soon, Maxine.

    • I only ate oysters once, Clare – never again 😉 But as you surmise, very slippery (much more so than snails, another species I ate a few times in my mis-spent youth but have since learnt the error of my ways you’ll be glad to know).

  3. Maxine – Right you are about Barclay’s style, and I like the way that he weaves humour through the novels, too, although not in a really facetious way. I think one of the things Barclay also does well is weave the absurd, eerie and so on into the normal fabric of daily life. Not everyone does that smoothly but he does. Glad you liked this one.

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  5. I like Linwood Barclay and very much enjoyed The Accident; it was just my cup of tea for a certain weekend where I needed escapism and diversion. Barclay delivered as usual!
    My only point is that there were a lot of murders for one town, and I started figuring out culprits easily, but this did not take away from my enjoying at reading this book. (And, yes, in many books today there is a push to only buy U.S.-made products.)
    I just read The Drop, Michael Connelly’s latest Harry Bosch book. I was riveted. Some of the dialogue scenes were just brilliant — and the logic behind Bosch’s speaking and thinking. Lots of plot twists in the book’s main investigation. There was a second case, which was very upsetting; I had to skip some sections. I find myself asking if these types of crimes are particular to the U.S., as the news often has stories on the worst crimes. So escapism was not possible in a portion of this book, although I find Connelly’s books to be interesting, even fascinating, and it’s always uncovering a new layer of understanding about Bosch.
    And, yes! I concur on oysters — not my cup of tea at all.

    • I enjoyed The Drop too, Kathy. Agree the second case was upsetting but this author is never gratuitous. We do get a lot of these “exaggerated murders et al.” books in the UK – I don’t read many of them but Belinda Bauer for example has written three books about the same Devon area (countryside) and about 30 people so far have been abducted, murdered or otherwise gone a bit crazy. And the “serial killer” theme is very popular in “thrillers” here, sadly.

  6. I read No Time for Goodbye and enjoyed it, but haven’t read any of his others. I agree about him being the perfect comfort read and it is good to hear that this one is as enjoyable as his first. I may well get hold of this one when I next need a fast paced mystery.

  7. He’s not only Canadian by birth, he has lived and worked in Canada (Toronto) all his life. What a shame that, probably for commercial reasons, he has never set a novel in his own country. Imagine, say, Reginald Hill setting all his novels in France . . .

    • And I sometimes wonder what US Americans make of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I know how amusing Elizabeth George’s or Deborah Crombie’s UK can sometimes be (inadvertently on the authors’ part)> Continuing the Canadian connection, two other authors who aren’t Canadian but who live there and have done for many years, and set their novels elsewhere are Peter Robinson (Yorkshire, UK) and John Brady (Dublin, Ireland). But both these authors were born in the countries they write about. (A recent Brady book is set in Austria, though.)

  8. I read No Time for Goodbyes in 2009 and haven’t read any other. Always wanted to read more of his books, perhaps a Crime and Thriller fiesta month is all I need!

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