BROKEN PROMISE By Linwood Barclay Doubleday, 471 pages, $22.95
Linwood Barclay’s new book, his 14th and most ambitious, is as thickly populated as a Dickens novel. So many characters turn up in the course of the main plot and the many subplots that Barclay supplies a “Cast of Characters” at the front of the book, a list of 23 main players accompanied by brief descriptions of their roles. But one sign of Barclay’s grasp on his material is that readers paying any attention at all will never need to consult the cast list.
The story is set in familiar Barclay territory, the town of Promise Falls in upper New York state. Prosperity has deserted the town. The local newspaper has shut down, throwing David Harwood, a reporter, out of work. Harwood narrates half of the book’s story and takes the role of the central character, though the police detective, an overweight guy with a sense of humour, shoulders an equal share of the narrative drive.
Several alarming events skip into the plot. Somebody may be stalking young women at the local college, a leading surgeon has a gambling problem, a citizen with a morbid sense of fun is playing ugly tricks on the town. But the plot at centre stage is more serious. It’s doublebarrelled, involving the murder of a young mother and the discovery of the dead woman’s baby in the home of a nice young woman who has a dubious history with missing babies.
Both the former reporter and the police detective get on the case, which soon expands to encompass all the subplots. Barclay never relaxes his hold on the multiple proceedings, making Broken
Promise his most accomplished book as well as his most ambitious.