Linwood Barclay’s 13th novel begins with one person dangling another over the river near Niagara Falls. Both are unidentified; who they are, and how they wound up in this situation, are only two of the many mysteries in A Tap on the Window.
In the small town of Griffon, New York, middle-aged “snoop for hire” Cal Weaver is obsessed with finding the drug dealer responsible for his son’s death in a car accident. Everyone’s a suspect, and even the righteous are guilty of something. Barclay creates a very believable small-town dynamic, made up of petty power struggles and hidden infidelities.
Cal knows it is a bad idea to pick up a teenage hitchhiker named Claire, but he does it anyway, mostly because he realizes she isn’t doing something very bright either. During a stop at a diner, Claire and a look-alike pull a bait-and-switch. When Claire goes missing and her friend ends up dead, Cal launches his own investigation, as much to keep Griffon’s brutish cops off his back as to find out what happened to the young women. Barclay intersperses Cal’s investigation with intense digressions involving another unnamed man in a basement room and the woman who is keeping him prisoner. This second plot strand, which evokes a Misery-like sense of dread, at first appears unconnected to the main plot, though it serves to deepen the mystery and eventually pays off.
Barclay deftly captures the extremes that rage and grief can drive a person to while also navigating complicated family relationships. He even manages to humanize one of Cal’s primary antagonists: Augustus Perry, his brother-in-law and chief of police. In A Tap on the Window, the tension doesn’t end when you find out who is responsible for the nefarious goings-on. As a result of Barclay’s outstanding character development, the reader still needs to know the whys – and they will crush you.