Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
So Linwood’s Promise Falls Trilogy comes to its finale, with the Paperback release of The Twenty Three. A mysterious influenza type of illness arrives in town, as May’s Memorial Day festivities are in full swing. This is apt as this novel is both a fevered read, as much as it is memorable.
The first question that one ponders is whether The Twenty Three can be read as a standalone, or if one should read the preceding works? Broken Promise started the saga with its tale of widower, the journalist David Harwood relocating (with his son) to his childhood home in NY State’s (fictional) Promise Falls and the dark family secrets that await him. We’re first introduced to Detective Barry Duckworth and the stranger things that are occurring in this sleepy town; occurrences that are as hard to rationalise, as they are creepy with subtle references to the number 23.
Detective Duckworth returns in Far From True; the second installment where we meet Private Investigator Cal Weaver, who is investigating deaths related to a movie theater collapse which conceals something for more troubling. Like its precursor there are myriad characters, shifting perspectives and story-lines, as well as much darkness cloaking this sleepy town, like a dark fog.
So the loose ends from Broken Promise and Far From True bleed into The Twenty Three; like the mystery virus that comes to town. Detective Duckworth and PI Weaver have their work cut-out uncovering the illness, investigating the chemistry of water treatment as well as possible terrorism or political machinations; and all the while the Number 23 remains like a watermark over the proceedings.
I consider The Twenty Three to be easily read as a standalone; as Barclay feeds and teases the backstory from the preceding volumes elegantly into this finale. However, the reader gets far more insight and reflection if the previous volumes were read prior to this climatic denouement.
All three books share much ground. Firstly they are intricately plotted, held together by narrative strings that are initially invisible, but slowly they come into focus becoming visible as the tale unravels. Secondly, they are all deeply character driven, like all of Barclay’s thrillers - taking a domestic backdrop that soon turns dark and menacing. Thirdly and most intriguingly, all have loose strands fanning out at the close of each volume, like electrical cables sliced apart from a cable tray. This includes this final volume, though there is a coda of sorts coming that should close this elegant series, like Never Saw It Coming was the encore for No Time For Goodbye.
Highly recommended for those who like to become lost in hypnotic fiction, for these novels are all engrossing, and a welcome distraction from the surreal nature of our current geo-political reality. They also provoke deep thought, making the reader ponder about what is real, and what is not. It is therefore of little surprise that Barclay has become one of Stephen King’s favourite writers. If you read The Twenty Three you’ll soon agree with the Man from Maine.