Written by Linwood Barclay — Parting Shot is a novel that could have been pulled straight from current headlines, which may be because much of the plot is. In Promise Falls, New York, a young man kills a young woman in a hit and run while drunk. He gets away with little more than a slap on the wrist by claiming he always lived an easy life and was never taught the difference between right and wrong. Because of this, online groups coalesce into increasingly hateful factions, going so far as to threaten horrific acts of revenge. So far, so CNN, but the difference here is that some of the threats are actually carried out.
Told in alternating chapters, featuring private investigator Cal Weaver and Promise Falls Police Detective Barry Duckworth, Parting Shot comes together slowly but pulls us in as the tension builds. Duckworth was hoping for a quiet day at work, or even a quiet year after recent events (featured in previous Linwood Barclay novels), but those hopes are dashed when an officer brings him Brian Gaffney to interview. Gaffney is the victim of a mysterious and brutal crime. He was drugged, held captive for days, and left with a mysterious message tattooed on his back. Gaffney has no idea who attacked him, but Duckworth promises to find out.
Meanwhile Cal Weaver reluctantly agrees to work on a job that no one else will take, protecting 18-year-old Jeremy Pilford. Jeremy is the perviously mentioned teenager who was convicted of his friend’s death, but received no jail time based on the spurious legal defence that his mother failed to teach him right from wrong. Known as the Big Baby, Jeremy is forced into hiding as the threats of revenge hit closer to home. Weaver accompanies him on a road trip to Cape Cod, only to have the secret of their location revealed, all too predictably, by Jeremy and his mother’s reliance on technology, something all too common nowadays.
There are two problems with writing a book that seems so clearly torn from the zeitgeist; two traps that it’s hard for an author to avoid. The first is that such a novel can miss the mark, failing to really capture the mood of the age it was written. The second is that it can capture it too well, and thus will quickly start to show its age. Surely any future generations who pick Parting Shot up will not fail to recognise the references to US president Donald Trump, even if he isn’t mentioned by name. Such political asides add nothing to the tension of the plot. In fact they come close to having the opposite effect.
Linwood Barclay seems as if he walked into the world with an uncanny ability to construct perfectly tense plots, which goes some way to making up for the deficiencies in Parting Shot. The book remains a page turner despite clunky dialogue, plot twists that are foreshadowed chapters in advance, and an ending that, while not exactly predictable in its detail, can be seen coming a mile away. Perhaps the biggest issue I have with Parting Shot is the way in which so many characters seem to think murder is a satisfactory way to deal with any petty disagreement. But if you can see past this, you will find a lot to like in Linwood Barclay’s latest thriller.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars