The Accident: A Thriller – by Linwood Barclay

I finished reading this book last night and posted the following review this morning on goodreads.

The Accident is one of those plot-driven mystery-thriller type books, a variation on the whodunnit. I should make a note on ratings here as I’m fairly new to goodreads. I notice that some readers have applied ratings of 4 and 5 stars to this book but in my little brain, there are likely only a small number of books in this genre that would compel me to click past the 3 star rating. I enjoyed reading The Accident well enough, but I don’t think it’s the top of the genre, so I rated it as two stars, or “OK”.

Prior to reading this book, I read The Fool’s Progress by Edward Abbey and that gives me a little perspective on ratings. Like it or hate it, The Fool’s Progress is a book with a lot of scope. It’s a big book, and don’t mean thick. It tackles the big themes and it gives the reader a lot to chew on. From there I plowed right into The Accident and was happy enough to spend a little time indulging in some lighter stuff, and I knew what I was getting into.

The Accident is all about the story, the plot. Mr. Barclay has given most of the characters in the book some secrets, all key to the final unraveling of the storyline. It’s clever that way, if unlikely. Central to the book is the idea that when nice suburban Americans get involved with selling knock-off purses, it leads to all kinds of other bad things because they spiral into the world of organized crime. Faced with owing a pile of money to a nasty-assed gangster, one character, the wife of a policeman, even dabbles in S&M prostitution for a little cash. The author is pretty good at building plot structure and has created a page-turner, no doubt about that. I stayed up late last night to finish it and I had to see how it all came out. To his credit, I failed to guess many of the carefully crafted and layered plot twists.

I found myself confused though, by the narrative structure of this book. Part of it was in the voice of the main character, who is trying to figure out what really happened to cause the death of his wife. Other chapters are in some other third person voice that fills in gaps and describes events the main narrator can’t see (but only select events). The first three chapters, for instance, are in the first person. Then comes chapter four, which takes place in the absence of the first narrator. Is this the first person voice telling the story after the fact based on information gathered later? Not quite. There is dialogue and this voice seems to know what other characters are thinking. I think I would be more satisfied if the author chose a single narrative approach and stuck to it.

One of the problems with books that are all about plot is that they seem to forget to develop both the depth and the voices of the characters. I finished the book last night but can only tell you enough details of the characters to understand what happened. I’m particularly disappointed with the voice of the eight year old daughter Kelly, who just doesn’t sound like an eight year old. I felt I didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters and to understand their motivations beyond the obvious and what was needed to piece together the storyline. It was hard to care what happened to any of them.

If you want to enjoy a quick read with some enjoyable and clever plot twists, maybe this is the book for you. Sometimes a little page-turning plot-driven distraction is just what the doctor ordered. Next time I’m looking for a little of that, I might pick up another book by this popular author. For my next book though, I think I’ll look for something with a little more meat and potatoes.

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