Linwood Barclay is the critically acclaimed New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of 16 novels. These include the four-book Zack Walker series, the recent Promise Falls trilogy (Broken Promise, Far From True, and The Twenty-Three), and the 2009 Arthur Ellis Award-winning title, Too Close to Home. His newest, Parting Shot (available October 31, 2017), is a standalone thriller that revisits both the backdrop of Promise Falls and Private Investigator Cal Weaver. A former newspaper journalist for The Toronto Star, the American-born Barclay makes his home in Oakville, Ontario.
Recently, the author generously took time to answer questions pertaining to his craft—writing standalone vs. series novels, balancing multiple storylines and dual protagonists, and creating believable plot twists, among other topics. He also teased the “Hitchcockian” tale that comes next…
What inspired you to write a standalone novel following your Promise Falls trilogy, and how is this book entrenched in those roots despite its self-containment?
I felt there was one more Promise Falls story to tell, but I didn’t want the plot to be too closely linked to the three novels that had come before. You’re going to create a bit of confusion if you tell people you’ve done a trilogy with four parts. Readers are going to think maybe math is not your strong suit. So I wanted to do a standalone.
But the events of the trilogy were so devastating to this imaginary town that I couldn’t pretend they didn’t happen. It’s been a year, but there’s still fallout from what happened in The Twenty-Three. The book references it, and the theme of the plot draws from those events. You may appreciate Parting Shot more if you have read the trilogy, but you won’t be lost if you haven’t.
In what ways does setting enhance narrative, and how does tragedy, and the resulting community response, lend itself to paranoia and the proliferation of revenge fantasies?
I think a small-town setting—as opposed to, say, London or New York—can lend itself to a kind of community paranoia. In a big city, you don’t expect to know your neighbors, but in smaller town, you think that you do. So when you learn that someone is doing some very bad things, you ask yourself: Could I know this person? Could it be my next-door neighbor? Can I still trust the people I run into every day?
As for revenge, I don’t think it much matters where you live. That’s a pretty universal human trait. The good news is, not everyone is motivated by it to the same degree.
How do you view the media as influencing crime and punishment, and in what ways does the prevalence of social networking factor into the equation?
Social networks—Twitter, Facebook—don’t allow for much nuance. An issue gets boiled down to its essence. Outrage is instantaneous and contagious. No one is much interested in the factors that may have gone into a sentencing decision, for example. And I think everyone brings their biases to every story. They’ve formed their opinions in the absence of facts. (The fact is very much an endangered species these days. WWF may need to step in.) Not only are people primed to be outraged, they enjoy being outraged. The internet has become a place to vent. It’s cathartic, but it’s not healthy. As the rage grows, politicians and others will respond with uninformed decisions.
I think a lot of this comes into play in Parting Shot. The public is outraged by the easy sentence given to a young man in a fatal drunk-driving crash. But they don’t know all the facts of the case. In fact, almost no one does.
Your narrative alternates between two apparently distinct cases (and their requisite characters). How does this structure lend itself to the development, and maintenance, of suspense, and did this approach influence your plotting process in any new or unexpected ways?
I’ve always liked juggling stories. You raise the stakes in one story, then shift to the other. The hope is you’ll be so eager to find out what happened in Story A that you race through Story B to get back to it. The only problem is, Story B is also offering up all these mini-cliffhangers, so you want to get back to that story too. That’s how I try to build momentum into a novel. Have all these balls in the air, as it were. And they’re always moving.
Given this construct, you have dual protagonists—PI Cal Weaver and Detective Barry Duckworth. How did you endeavor to achieve an authentic distinction of character, and was it your experience that the depiction of one aided in development of the other?
I’ve done several books now with each of these characters, so I have a pretty strong sense of who they are. I hope they come across as distinctly different, and yet they have much in common. They share a sense of decency, a desire for justice, and a driving curiosity.
Not only are people primed to be outraged, they enjoy being outraged. The internet has become a place to vent. It’s cathartic, but it’s not healthy.
But their histories define them in different ways. Cal Weaver has suffered tremendous losses. Duckworth, on the other hand, is in a happy marriage, although the relationship with his son is strained.
You have been heralded as “the master of the twist you never saw coming.” In your opinion, what is the trick to crafting an ending that both surprises and satisfies, and how do you sustain that methodology over time?
Many times, I approach the end of a chapter and think, what is the most logical way this chapter could end? And is there any way that I can keep that from happening? I grew up hooked on TV. As a kid, I loved The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible and Columbo and dozens of other shows, and when I write, the ends of chapters are like commercial breaks. Whenever any of these shows stopped for a commercial, they left you with something that made you stick around. You could run to the bathroom or grab a snack, but you had to be back in front of the TV when the commercial was over. That’s how chapters should end. They should drive the narrative forward and present a situation or a twist that is enticing enough that you have to turn the page.
Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?
My next novel is called A Noise Downstairs, and it’s all done and edited. It’s a bit of a departure for me. It’s not part of any continuing series. There are no characters from any previous novels—although it is set in Milford, CT, where I have set several other books, most notably No Time for Goodbye. This is a real Hitchcockian tale, with more than the usual number of twists, and it just might scare you silly too.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Linwood Barclay is the New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of sixteen critically acclaimed novels, including the Promise Falls trilogy, composed of Broken Promise, Far From True and The Twenty-Three; No Safe House; A Tap on the Window; Trust Your Eyes, which has been optioned for film; and No Time Goodbye. The author lives in Oakville, ON.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.