Fear the Worst: a novel, By Linwood Barclay

Reviewed by Barry Forshaw

Wednesday 17 February 2010 01:00 GMT

Fear the worst? Isn't that what all good crime novels should make the reader feel, regarding the beleaguered protagonist? The Canadian novelist Linwood Barclay is well versed in the ways of putting the reader through the wringer. It is a trick that Aristotle knew all about: catharsis. Certainly, that feeling of having been thoroughly purged (in a strangely pleasant way) is what Barclay's writing delivers here, very much in the fashion of his successful No Time for Goodbye.

Barclay's hero, Tim Blake, wakes up to what he thinks will be an ordinary day. It will, in fact, be a prelude to a nightmare. His teenaged daughter, Sydney, is staying with him while holding down a job for the summer at a nearby hotel. He is suffering the customary divorced parent's guilt, and is hoping for a bonding period. He is not worried when she does not return from the hotel, assuming she is spending time with friends.

But then it becomes clear that she is not coming home at all and, to his horror, he finds that nobody at the hotel has heard of her. The nightmare has begun. In a deftly modulated progression from unease to tension to terror, Barclay takes the reader towards a final engagement with some very sinister people. It is a journey which obliges Blake to re-assess everything he thought he knew about his daughter (and himself).

There is a particular kind of popular writing, couched in functional prose, which has just one agenda: to stop you turning off the bedside lamp. Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, was the exemplar in this field. Barclay isn't quite in the Levin class yet but on this evidence, it will not be long before he is.

It has to be said that Barclay takes his time in building the levels of apprehension here, and some readers may become a little impatient. But those who are happy with the author's slow-burn tactics will find that considerable dividends will be paid.

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