BAD MOVE by Linwood Barclay (Bantam), 310 pages, $30 cloth. Rating: NNN
If you've ever toyed with the idea of escaping the evils of the big city by moving to the suburbs, Bad Move will make you think again. If you're already happily settled in the burbs, it'll have you taking a closer peek at your neighbours. Toronto Star columnist Linwood Barclay's first foray into mystery writing has as its unlikely hero Zack Walker, a science fiction writer and self-proclaimed "asshole." Obsessed with safety, he's noticed the arrival of discarded needles and used condoms on his downtown street with growing alarm. When a young girl is abducted and murdered, he packs his journalist wife and two teenage kids off to the safe streets of a nondescript bedroom community.
It's hard to disagree with Zack's assessment of himself; his concern about his family's safety leads him to an assortment of preposterous stunts that soon land him in the middle of murder and municipal corruption.
Plagued by a malfunctioning barbecue, leaky windows, falling plaster and a hard-to-get-hold-of developer, Zack soon discovers that all is not as it seems in Valley Forest Estates. The plot has as many twists and turns as the cookie-cutter development. I don't want to give too much away, but think back to recent news stories about police busts in the suburbs.
The writing is smart and funny (there's some great teenager dialogue), with enough suburb-bashing to satisfy. But the generic American setting irked me, especially since it sounded a lot like Toronto and a thinly disguised Oakville.
Zack may be a real jerk over things like backpacks left on the stairs, but he did grow on me. And thanks to some well laid out clues, the ending of this comedy of errors caught me by surprise. Always a good thing.
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