Friday, 17 June 2011

Too Close To Home - Linwood Barclay

The Cutter family's neighbours (Albert, Donna and Adam Langley) are gunned down in their own home, with apparently little in the way of a motive. Teenager Derek Cutter is immediately the main suspect, as he was hiding in the Langley home at the time of the murders. From this point onwards, the Cutter family's life is thrown into turmoil, with secrets, lies and betrayal being dug up from the past. But how do they all fit together to reveal the truth? And is Derek Cutter really guilty?

On reading the blurb of this book I was quite excited - I had never read any of Linwood Barclay's books before, and the premise sounded thrilling. The Cutters discover that whoever murdered their neighbours went to the wrong house, that they were actually the intended victims. Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler, as if you've read the blurb on the back of the book you'll know that already! What could be worse than finding out your neighbours have been shot, but that it should have been you in their shoes? Eagerly, I opened the book and started reading...

Apart from the prologue, the whole story is written in the first person, from the point of view of Jim Cutter, father to Derek and husband to Eileen. Jim runs his own lawn cutting and garden maintenance business, which he was forced to take on after he lost his job as the town Mayor's driver. Jim is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who doesn't make idle chat for the sake of it, and is often curt and to the point.

I felt that often he was a little too brief to be normal, but I suppose this can be understood when you realise how much him and his family were going through. Nevertheless, he is a very likeable character; perhaps the fact that it is written in the first person means that we can feel his anger, sympathise with his sadness and understand his shock, almost in a cathartic manner.

Jim's wife Eileen is a much deeper character than she first appears. She seems like she should be the quiet, caring, doting wife and mother - I'm not saying she's not - but sometimes she comes across as a much more complicated person than I expect her to be. Perhaps it's just me being closed-minded, as Barclay may have purposely portrayed her as a sort of postmodern woman...but when you consider the rest of the book (which I will come to later) she doesn't really seem to fit. As well as that, her revelation - more than that I won't give away for fear of ruining the story - is a bit silly for me. It is feasible that it could happen in real life, but for some reason just felt a little unbelievable.

The Cutter family, for the most part, seemed like your average family... Yet they didn't seem to be overly bothered about the fact that a family was murdered in the house next door. If it was me, I'd barely be able to go into my own house, let alone keep walking and driving past the house where the murder took place. However, the Cutters seemed to ignore this fact and focus on other aspects of the plot. I think I was just expecting more tension or fear from them as a family.

With regards to the rest of the characters, there aren't actually that many to get your head around. I think this is great, as there's nothing worse than having hundreds of characters and losing track of who's who. Most of the rest of the characters are balanced and well-developed, even those we don't see much of. The only exception is Conrad Chase (Eileen Cutter's boss) and his wife Illeana. They both seemed too gregarious and self-important for the town in which they live, and it's extraordinary that in this prejudiced society of ours that a couple such as Conrad and Illeana would voluntarily befriend grass-cutting Jim. It actually seemed like they would be characters more suited to a film than a book...did Barclay have big ideas for this novel...?

Now, I'm going to have to be careful about how I word my views on the plot, as I don't want to give too much away. Apologies to anyone if I accidentally and unknowingly say something which reveals the truth!

I was actually a bit disappointed by the plot. By the time I'd reached the end of the book I was left baffled - a fairly large portion of the book and its focus ended up being totally unrelated to the outcome of the story. Yes, it may have helped to develop the characters and give them some depth, and you may even be able to argue it away as being a sub-plot...but it is such a large sub-plot that I thought it was the actual plot. By the end, I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time reading about something which was totally irrelevant. I mean, I've heard of red herrings and all, but this is taking red herrings to the next level!

Furthermore, the way the plot is constructed seems a bit simple. It actually reminded me a lot of a story I wrote for my English homework when I was in Year 8: one thing happens, which the characters focus on and investigate, then another thing happens, which the characters then focus on and investigate, then a third thing happens, which the characters go and focus on and investigate...and so on. What I'm trying to say is that everything happens one thing at a time. There are never lots of things going on at once, and I felt that the story lacked some depth. I suppose that this structure makes it a quick and easy read, but I personally prefer books which have more layers to them and which do not lay everything plainly out in front of me.

Having said that, when it became clear what was actually happening regarding the murders, it was something that I hadn't thought of at all. With crime books I like to be kept guessing as to what will happen next, and I hadn't guessed the truth at all. I wasn't surprised by it, but it hadn't occurred to me either. As I neared the end of the book, the tension mounted effectively and I felt myself holding my breath as I waited to see what would happen next. The ending is certainly gripping and thrilling...I only wish it could have been like that the whole way through.

The language used in the book is all very easy to understand. Any legal matters, especially regarding Derek Cutter, are glossed over so as to avoid drowning the reader in too much legal waffle. As I mentioned earlier, this is a quick read - I think it took me roughly ten hours in total to read, although this was with many interruptions such as conversations and texting! The chapters are all fairly short - not as short as in James Patterson books, but short enough that you can stop reading at frequent intervals.

Overall, would I recommend this book? ...I would and I wouldn't. I would because it is a quick read, which does become more gripping and thrilling as it goes along. However, I wouldn't recommend the book due to the facts that the structure is basic and a large portion of the plot was irrelevant to the outcome. It just ended up being totally different from the book I was expecting. After I'd finished it, I re-read the blurb again and actually couldn't figure out what part of the story the blurb was referring to. I even commented to my mum that it seemed like the blurb was printed on the back of the wrong book! The book wasn't what I was expecting, and it wasn't the best written or constructed book I've ever read, but it was a good, tense, quick read.

My paperback copy has 466 pages and has a RRP of £7.99. It can currently be bought on Amazon for £5 (from other sellers the new price starts at £1.78 and used starts at 1p). I think the RRP is a bit steep, but if you can get it a bit cheaper then you'll be getting a fair deal.

Summary: A good, thrilling book...that's not necessarily the best you'll ever read...
Rating: 3/5

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