Friday, June 4, 2010

Bad Guys by Linwood Barclay

A few years ago I read No Time for Goodbye which I thought, at the time, was Linwood Barclay's first novel. It was okay, a dark, atmospheric story of a young woman's domestic terror and familial betrayal. Since then I've read two more of Barclay's novels, and have been underwhelmed with each one. He seemed to be modeling himself on Harlen Coben, who certainly does what he does pretty well. But even in his darkest melodramatic suburban thrillers Coben has always exhibited a sly sense of humor, though it may only appear now and then with the merest wink. Barclay, on the other hand, seemed bereft of any lightness, humor, or hope (as well as the talent to pull off such unrelieved heaviness).  

How surprised was I, then, to be browsing at the library and have Bad Guys catch my eye. Its bright green cover and cartoonish artwork depicting brightly colored guns dancing between the words of the title suggested fun. A caper, perhaps. Death with jokes.  

I wasn't disappointed. Bad Guys, the follow-up to Bad Moves, which I haven't read, is the continuing story of Zack Walker. Zack is a published but still less-than-successful science fiction writer, currently working as a features reporter on the local rag and reporting to his wife. A day-in-the-life of a private investigator assignment--combined with some tidy coincidences--involves Zack with the third-in-command (the boss and his second are both in prison) of a local crime gang. Willy "Barbie" Bullock (nicknamed thusly in honor of his jaw-dropping collection of Barbie dolls and accessories, including the coveted Munster family Barbies) may be the guy running the gang that's been carrying out a series of smash and grab burglaries; they smash a giant SUV (the "Annihilator") into the front windows of high-end men's shops and steal designer suits. He also wants the hybrid car Zack has just bought at auction, and will use any means necessary to get it.  

And then there's the kid who's stalking Zack's eighteen-year-old daughter. Good kid with boundary issues or obsessed pervert? Zack's determination to learn the answer to that question is funny and disturbing at the same time, an excellent combination. In fact, the book as a whole is a nice balance of funny and disturbing, which makes the liberal use of coincidence and serendipity go down that much easier. There are some gruesome murders, but our hero takes care of the bad guys and of his own family (and still gets his story filed). Linwood Barclay would do well to revisit his earlier work before writing his next thriller.


Try the humorous mysteries of Bill Fitzhugh. Fitzhugh is a little more out there than Barclay in Bad Guys, and Radio Activity, Heart Seizure, Organ Grinders, and his other books are absolutely hilarious.

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