Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over six years. She is a crime fiction Editor for an independent publishing company in London.
This landed in my pigeonhole accompanied by a note from Mike with just two scribbled words - 'bloody good'. That's a great recommendation for any reader, let alone a slightly stressed editor with three edits and numerous manuscripts to finish.
Cal Weaver, ex-cop turned private investigator, picks up a hitchhiker one wet night in Griffon, upstate New York. A slightly dubious thing to do as she's a teenage girl and he's a middle-aged man and, well, we all know the kind of trouble that can lead to. Predictably enough, trouble soon follows, but not perhaps the trouble you would immediately think of. In typical Barclay fashion he takes the reader's expectations and flips them. When the girl, Claire, asks Cal to pull over at a rest stop, she disappears for a long time. When she re-appears, he soon discovers that she isn't the same girl. This isn't some alien-abduction story (thankfully), it's a mystery. Who is this fake Claire and why have the two girls swapped places? Why does Claire need a doppleganger – is she running from something, or hiding from someone?
When the police show up asking questions the next day, Cal starts looking into Claire and her apparent disappearance. In doing so he gets thrust into the centre of a stand-off between the Griffon police department and the mayor – who also happens to be Claire's father. In a small town with a low crime rate, the question that everyone is split over is how far is too far in meting out justice? Then the body of a teenage girl turns up and Cal's life gets even more complicated.
Barclay has a way of taking normal, everyday events that the reader can relate to and pushing them to extremes. In The Accident, it was the story of a wife whose death by drink driving exposed a Desperate Housewives-esque group of suburbanites turned prescription drug dealers caught up in the recession. A Tap on the Window explores police corruption, but on a justice level instead of a financial one. Who polices the police in a small town where the police come down heavy on lawbreakers and the residents like their safe way of life?
Barclay takes themes that are frequently in the media and uses the crime narrative to explore the morality behind the headlines and to get his readers to think 'what would I do?' if it happened to them. In A Tap on the Window it's the 'what ifs' that could happen in an 'ordinary' tale of police corruption – if some of the people in those stories are psychopaths or sociopaths of course. The narrative whips along as you follow Cal's investigation and learn about his own tragic family history, while all the time a second narrative is playing underneath; that of three unnamed residents and their secrets. This small town seems just as violent as their nearest big city, Buffalo, but perhaps Griffon is all the more dangerous because their violence is bubbling just under the surface and, when it erupts, there are no guarantees as to who will step forward and who will turn a blind eye.
Next novel: Barclay on 'Plebgate' perhaps?