Reviewed by Jim Napier
A chance encounter between two friends sets off a trail of intrigue ending in violence, in the fourteenth suspense tale by acclaimed Canadian thriller writer Linwood Barclay.
Paul Davis and Kenneth Hoffman both teach at West Haven College. It’s nearly midnight, and Davis is driving home when he notices his friend Hoffman in his car. He’s weaving, and one taillight on his Volvo is broken. Davis knows that his friend is compulsive about such things; it is uncharacteristic of the man that he wouldn’t have had it fixed, and intrigued, Davis follows him. When Hoffman pulls to the side of the road Davis decides to identify himself. Hoffman confronts him angrily, and as he approaches Hoffman’s car he discovers that it contains the lifeless bodies of two women.
In a desperate bid to conceal his crimes, Hoffman attacks Davis with a shovel, and his life is spared only when a policeman pulls up to check out the car with the broken taillight.
Eight months later Kenneth Hoffman is in prison, but Paul Davis is still suffering the aftermath of that evening: he’s on leave from his teaching duties, and suffering from headaches, nightmares, memory lapses and flashbacks to that terrible night. His therapist, Anna White, is helping Paul as he struggles to understand the man whom he’d called a friend and mentor and who had tried to murder him. When he reaches home after one of his sessions with Anna, Paul decides that the only way he will get some relief is to better understand his assailant. He sits down at his computer and begins an internet search on his assailant, unaware that someone is watching his house.
Meanwhile, Paul’s therapist is not without her own issues. Her father is suffering from dementia, and she is left to care for him alone. And another client, Gavin Hitchins, is proving to be a serious challenge. He’d locked an elderly neighbour’s cat in her attic, causing her serious distress. And on another occasion he’d phoned the father of a soldier who’d recently died in Iraq, claiming to be the son, alive, and telling him how much he hated him. Gavin hadn’t even known the man.
Anna is counselling Gavin as a result of a court order that keeps him out of jail. He’d had a troubled life, his father denigrating Gavin and his achievements, and his mother committing suicide when he was nineteen. But when his father developed liver cancer a few years later Gavin had taken advantage of his condition to exact some revenge, tormenting the man by hiding his medications and moving or adjusting household objects to frustrate him. Anna is convinced Gavin is a sociopath, entirely lacking empathy for everyone around him and a danger to those around him, and it seems the therapist is concerned for everyone around her except herself. Surrounded by damaged people, can anyone survive intact?
A Noise Downstairs is a chilling portrayal of the damaged people who walk among us, often impossible to detect. Barclay gives us a tale worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, a thriller for today’s far-from-perfect world. Don’t read it alone.
A Noise Downstairs is published by Doubleday Canada.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites. His crime novel Legacy was published in April of 2017, and the next in the series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org