In a tiny but pivotal flashback, Cal Weaver struggles to explain to his then eight-year-old son Scott that “Sometimes doing the right thing hurts.” That pretty much nails the essence of Barclay’s gripping new slice of domestic noir: the world is full of good intentions and bad results.
Once more Barclay; a deceptively mild-mannered author, seems determined to rescue the familial tragedy from the rarefied air of the privileged and comfortably well-off and give it back to the people who have to live through it in the real world. There are no brilliant surgeons here, no high-powered attorneys, or pampered rock stars in Barclay’s stories—his protagonists tend to be used-car salesmen, building contractors, school teachers, or middle-aged small-town private eyes like Cal. He’s no mythic two-fisted, rotgut-swilling gumshoe, but rather a shopworn, quietly efficient investigator; just another working-class grunt trying to do the best he can.
But it’s not going so well for Cal. He’s in a world of hurt, trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, following the suicide of a now-teenage Scott a few months earlier, and a marriage that is crumbling in its aftermath. Obsessed with trying to find out why their only child threw himself from the roof of a local furniture store, Cal has been doggedly running his own investigation, relentlessly questioning local teenagers. So when pretty young Claire, a classmate of Scott’s, taps on his car window one rainy night, asking for a ride, Cal reluctantly plays Samaritan.
But it’s just another good intention run amuck—Claire is the mayor’s daughter, and when she disappears shortly after, suspicion falls heavily on Cal, the last person to be seen with her. Once again, this Canadian author has chosen, rather disappointingly, an American setting. But the hurt and pain, not to mention the smug complacency and paranoia of suburbia, the unending questions of security versus freedom, and the bullying politics of fear, are universal; as are the throbbing engines of drug abuse, corruption, fear, greed, loneliness, grief, and madness that drive this story right to its bitter and scathing—if slightly too drawn-out—conclusion. There may be no pity in the naked city, but in Barclay’s world, there’s precious damn little in the ’burbs either.