Book Review: A Noise Downstairs - Linwood Barclay
A Noise Downstairs - Linwood Barclay
**WARNING** There are no spoilers below, but perhaps a little more detail about the plot that you might not want to know, although really not much more than is evident from the opening chapter.
The question you ask yourself when you read a Linwood Barclay novel, and the reason you keep reading through his books, is how is he going to pull off some amazing twist? You know that you've only been fed one superficial reading of the thriller that sounds plausible enough, but there's enough strange behaviour and unexplained events to assure you that there is a lot more to be uncovered. The only concern you might have would be whether the twist is going to work, and there is only one way to find out when you read a Linwood Barclay novel and that is to keep reading through to the end.
If you're a fan or have read any of his books before, you know that credibility is unlikely to be a serious issue with this particular author. Barclay's novels might have more twists than a shopful of curly-wurlys and it might lead to a rather sudden last-minute clusterkill, but they don't cheat the reader or leave you disappointed that you've wasted several hours of your life. Even the reassurance of it all coming together in an explosive finale (which is indeed the reality as far as this book is concerned) might not be enough to suspend your sense of disbelief or confidence in the main plot device in A Noise Downstairs. A haunted typewriter?
As much as it might seem like it, you can still be fairly certain that Linwood Barclay isn't really going down the route of a Stephen King supernatural thriller, but you might wonder why the main character his novel - a college professor of literature - would really believe that dead people are speaking to him through his old antique classic Underwood typewriter. Well, his reaction is not as far-fetched as it might seem. For a start, Paul Davis isn't a conventional literature professor, but also a science-fiction fan and he even includes popular contemporary fiction in his syllabus, admiring the sheer storyteller qualities of authors like Stephen King. There's another reason why Paul might be susceptible to supernatural suggestion, and that's because he's suffering from PTSD and seeing a therapist.
The reason for Paul's condition - and this is nothing more than s revealed in the first 10 pages of the book - is that Paul is recovering from nearly being killed by a colleague at the university. Noticing some strange behaviour in the driving of his friend Ken Hoffman one evening, Davis follows his car and discovers that he is trying to dispose of the bodies of two young women he had been having an affair with. Hoffman attacks Davis as well, but is saved when the police arrive. Hoffman is imprisoned by Davis is still suffering from the physical and mental scars of his experience. Trying to understand how his colleague could have committed such a horrendous crime and try to kill him as well, Paul decides to research and interview some of the people involved and write it down.
His therapist, Anna White, is not convinced that it is a good idea, but in the eight months since the incident Paul hasn't been able to come to terms with what has happened. He suffers from memory lapses and is possibly imagining things. Which might account for the reason why Paul believes that the typewriter he is working on is tapping away in the middle of the night, and why it is leaving him brief messages that seem to be coming from Hoffman's victims. Paul believes that the typewriter that he is using might even be the very same one - never found - that the two women were forced to write confessions on just before Hoffmann killed them. Even if Paul has memory lapses, he's convinced he isn't writing the messages himself, so the only explanation must be that the typewriter is haunted.
Paul Davis might have reason for believing that either the typewriter is haunted or that he has lost his mind, but the reader might be just a little bit sceptical of this being uses as a plot device, or indeed of any criminal mastermind outside of a Scooby Doo cartoon really thinking that it might work. You know that there must be a rational explanation behind it, and of course Barclay lays one or two possibilities out that on the one hand serve to keep other options open, even as you suspect that it might be something of a false trail (unless it's a double bluff). All you can think however is that the author better come up with something good that accounts for all this hokum.
And, guess what?, he does. Pretty much. Not everyone will be convinced that the behaviours of all the people involved is entirely credible, or that events would play out quite the way that they do, but you have to give credit for that characteristic that Paul Davis admires in Stephen King. Linwood Barclay can spin a great story and see it through to a conclusion that doesn't cheat, that has been suggested and hinted at and has been right under your eyes the whole time. Even if you can guess or have suspicions about what is happening, I can assure you that Linwood Barclay will still find ways to surprise you, and reading all the way through to the thrilling conclusion of A Noise Downstairs.
A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay is published by Orion on 12th July 2018
Amazon UK - A Noise Downstairs