Kernel Morgan reviews Linwood Barclay’s fifteenth (I think) novel, BROKEN PROMISE. Barclay releases one or two novels a year and most of them have been hits over the years, he is known as somewhat of a master at detective fiction. Morgan wasn’t a huge fan of this and eloquently provides her thoughts below. BROKEN PROMISE is out now from the fine folks at Hachette Australia, you can obtain it from their website direct HERE or you can find it in most good bookstores. Enjoy Morgan’s review…….all the best…….JK.
BROKEN PROMISE is a phone-directory-size lump of a book that alleges to be a small-town ‘suspense thriller.’ The novel is the latest from Linwood Barclay, crime fiction author of NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, TOO CLOSE TO HOME, FEAR THE WORST, NEVER LOOK AWAY, and TRUST YOUR EYES. It has an unresolved ending that has his most devoted fans livid.
Marketing is designed to sell, but the marketing team has done a huge disservice to Barclay by not being upfront in the cover design and back blurb about the fact that this is the first part of a trilogy.
They have also deviously planted two glowing testimonials on the back – one from Stephen King saying “A suspense master”, and one from Tess Gerritsen saying “No one can thrill you and chill you better than Linwood Barclay” – neither of which appear to be written for this particular title but about the author in general based on earlier works. It should probably be a warning sign when so much diversion and distraction is used to appraise everything other than the content of the book.
The copy I have also has a sticker on the front saying “Do you like Harlen Coben? [another successful suspense author of titles such as DEAL BREAKER, FADE AWAY, BACK SPIN, TELL NO ONE, and LIVE WIRE] Then you will LOVE this book.”
I did not love this book. It was no Dennis Lehane or Gillian Flynn. It was overly long with nothing thrilling, chilling, or suspenseful about it. It is a 500 page scene-setting episode for some police procedural intrigue that may or may not happen in the sequels. BROKEN PROMISE is essentially an instalment in a serial. A ludicrously long instalment that could deter fans from later instalments.
David Harwood (a character first introduced in NEVER LOOK AWAY) is a journalist single-dad who moves back to his home town of Promise Falls (a town first introduced in TOO CLOSE TO HOME) to live with his elderly parents. Fans may be interested to know there is a cameo from Cal Weaver from Barclay’s A TAP ON THE WINDOW.
Cousin Marla is suffering mental health issues after the grief of having a stillborn baby. David visits Marla unannounced to deliver some home-cooked food from his mother. Marla is discovered unexpectedly caring for baby Matthew, and eventually discloses that a lady angel delivered him to her door the previous day. Baby Matthew turns out to be the baby of a recently murdered female neighbour Rosemary Gaynor. Her distraught husband Bill Gaynor (who is apparently under thirty but has the name of a nursing home patient) has recently returned from a business trip and wants baby Matthew back. Marla has allegedly stolen a baby from the hospital before.
Baby Matthew’s nanny is also missing. Dead squirrels are found tied to a fence. There is a rapist terrorising Thackeray College campus. A group of mannequins riding a derelict Ferris Wheel and nobody knows who did it. If these things sound interesting to you, don’t be fooled, the majority of mysteries brought up are left completely unexplained by the end.
David Harwood was a bit of a nothing character. The novel is alternating chapters between David as a first person past tense narrator (conveniently labelled ‘David’ under each chapter number) and an omniscient third-person past tense that follows Detective Barry Duckworth, Agnes and Gill Pickens (Marla’s parents), Arlene and Don Harwood (David’s parents), Jack Sturgess (a gambling addict doctor), Randall Finley and Gloria Fenwick etc. As the novel goes on, the proportion of ‘David’ chapters becomes less to give more room for following around this Greek-chorus-cast of side-characters. However, David is the one who speaks directly to the reader and tells us what to think, or when there is something more to a seemingly innocent interaction. David doesn’t have a lot of defining personality traits. He is quite beige and simple.
Promise Falls seems to be the whitest town in America. Everyone has really honky names, kind of 1950s nuclear-family Caucasian – Harwood, Duckworth, Pickens, Sturgess, Finley, Fenwick – it all just blurred into one giant white picket fence. But not in a cool unsettling David Lynch way, in a schlocky Perry Mason kind of way. Barclay rests heavily on stereotypes like cops eating doughnuts and locals going to the diner for a slice of cherry pie.
If the events of this novel are in any way shocking or ground-breaking to you, you have led a sheltered life. The issues aren’t very current and the characters are like silhouettes from an Edward Hopper painting, but less mysterious. It appears Barclay is trying to cash in on the WAYWARD PINES popularity, and offering up something fairly underwhelming in its own right but spread-out enough to recommend being optioned for a TV series. That is my conspiracy theory.
Every other Barclay book has been a stand-alone novel with a proper conclusion. The surprise and inexplicable cliff-hanger ending followed by “Don’t miss the next Linwood Barclay thriller set in Promise Falls, FAR FROM TRUE, coming soon” is just obnoxious. After 500 pages a big payoff ending is expected, nay warranted. Not an unsatisfying fob-off. Readers will feel cheated after investing in reading such a large excessively detailed tome.
BROKEN PROMISE is being described by some as a ‘page-turner’. It occurred to me that perhaps that was a backhanded compliment, as you have to flick through pages and pages of tedious detail about what people are eating and mundane irrelevant ‘character-developing’ conversations to get to anything of substance. I could literally rip out about 400 pages of this book and not alter the plot. Save your time and sanity and just read the back blurb as a synopsis.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.