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Barclay’s ‘The Accident’ a finely crafted tale

My introduction to the great world of mystery writing was Agatha Christie.

Don’t laugh; I was about 8 years old, introduced to the genre by an older sister.

And here was the thing about Dame Agatha: Even at 8 years old, it didn’t take me long to figure out her pattern in determining whodunnit. Whether it was Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple who was doing the detecting, I just had to consider which character was the least likely to be the guilty party — et voila!

My taste in reading materials has matured quite a bit since then, but I’m still a creature of habit; once I find an author whose work I like, I tend to stick with him or her until I work my way through most of their oeuvre. I still tend to read numerous books by one author — sometimes series, sometimes not, but as many as possible in a row. An unintended consequence of this is that I tend to look for patterns and frequently identify them.

Which brings me to “The Accident” by Linwood Barclay. Although this was not Barclay’s first novel, it’s the first of his that I have read. I plan to read more, but I have no illusions about identifying a pattern, because wow. Wow, wow, wow: A number of suspicious deaths. The usual large pool of suspects.
The usual generous compliment of red herrings. But here’s something a little different: (Spoiler alert) A number of killers, with varied motives and little to no connection to each other.

The book’s protagonist is Glen Garber, a happily married general contractor with a young daughter. Garber’s wife suddenly is killed in a car wreck, which becomes the seminal event of the story. She was heavily intoxicated, it seems, and had passed out in her car, which was parked across a highway entrance ramp. Innocents are killed and the Garber family is reviled, but it just doesn’t add up for Glen: His wife was neither a heavy drinker nor someone who was irresponsible.

And so, as the book progresses, he finds himself going through the various stages of grief, while trying to protect his daughter from schoolyard name-calling and, possibly, the threat of violence. As bodies pile up around him, he’s sued by the family of those killed in the crash, his business is endangered when a house under construction burns, his office manager’s complicated life leads to further conflicts, and on and on.

So here’s the best part: As each bit of the story was resolved, I found myself surprised but satisfied by the plausibility. And that continued to the very end of the book.

You can’t ask for much more than that from a mystery.

 

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