Review: Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay

Title: Too Close to Home

Author: Linwood Barclay

Publisher: Orion Books [2009]

ISBN: 978-1-4091-0209-0

Length: 466 pages

Genre: Thriller

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating: 2.5/5

One-liner: A bit superficial and predictable for me but those who like plot twists and turns should enjoy it.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Teenager Derek Cutter has a plan. He’ll hide in his next door neighbour and best friend Adam Langley’s house when Adam and his parents go on holidays. Then Derek will have a venue for hooking up with his girlfriend Penny. Things go awry when the Langley family returns home only an hour after leaving but while Derek is trying to work out how to sneak out without being discovered the entire Langley family is killed by intruders. The next morning Derek’s parents, Jim and Ellen, are shocked to learn of their neighbours’ fate and Derek says nothing about what he saw or heard the previous night. However, Jim Cutter learns some things that make him wonder if the Langley family were killed mistakenly.

I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye earlier this year and what grabbed me most were the thoughtful depictions of a couple’s individual and joint struggles in a time of crisis for their family. In Too Close to Home the characters were not nearly as engaging. Jim Cutter, whose point of view occupies most of the book, is superficial and he didn’t seem to react authentically to much of what was going on in his life. His response to people he didn’t like (punching them) was juvenile and became dull (he did it four times that I can recall) and overall I was bored by him. I never bought Ellen’s character at all but I can’t really say why without giving away spoilers but I think she waited far too long in terms of the internal logic of the story to share her secret with her husband. The only person who I really thought was depicted well was their teenage son Derek but he wasn’t enough of a pivotal role to hold the book together for me.

I also struggled to maintain interest in the plot. It seemed to take forever to get going and, aside from a few minor surprises, was quite predictable. The killer was obvious to me at the moment of their introduction and, even though it had three twists too many, the end of the convoluted plagiarism thread was easy to forecast. There seemed to me to be too many ideas jammed into this one story and so nothing really got explored terribly deeply and the fact that one thread was a very (very) long and obvious red herring didn’t really work.

The book is not terrible. But, as is the way of things, if something grabs my heart in some way I forgive its flaws and when something doesn’t grab me I do admit to becoming overly picky. For tangible and intangible reasons this book just didn’t grab me and so I’ve undoubtedly gotten hot under the collar about things that don’t really matter. However if you haven’t tried Linwood Barclay yet I’d recommend No Time For Goodbye.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I reviewed Linwood Barclay’s No Time for Goodbye in February this year

Other, far more positive, reviews of Too Close to Home can be found at Material Witness (who thinks it’s a better book than No Time for Goodbye), Peeking Between the Pages and A Bookworm’s World

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5 Responses to Review: Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay

  1. bethfishreads says:

    Thanks for the honest review. I know what you mean about forgiving flaws — if I love the main character I can overlook the problems, but if nothing grabs me, then all those problems jump out at me.

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  2. Bernadette – I know exactly what you mean about noticing all of a book’s flaws if there’s nothing to keep one reading. I agree with Beth that it’s easy to forgive a flaw if the characters are compelling, or the plot’s engrossing, or there’s something else that keeps one’s interest. Otherwise, the book falls flat.

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  3. Maxine says:

    I pretty much agree with your take of this book. I very much enjoyed No Time For Goodbye and was looking forward to this one after the long wait – but although it was readable, I found the plot very obvious and the characters not believable. And it turns out that one person has behaved in a totally out of character way in the past and not told anyone about it, which is not how this character has been depicted, so I didn’t feel that excited by the resolution. (I suppose one could argue that the “out of character” behaviour was because we see this character through the eyes of Jim Cutter but frankly I don’t think that was the author’s intention.)
    Still, it was an easy read and a notch or three above anodyne. I might give his next one a try as a sort of “last chance”.
    But Harlan Coben he’s not.

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  4. Ev Bishop says:

    Dear Bernadette,

    I really enjoyed this review–your honesty sans nastiness is a great combination.

    Giving specific reasons you felt the story didn’t work, while admitting, “if something grabs my heart in some way I forgive its flaws and when something doesn’t grab me I do admit to becoming overly picky” makes me trust you as reviewer.

    I also love how you link to reviewers with different opinions on the book.

    Linwood may not be as happy with this review as he is with some others, but he should be: I’m picking up his book(s) because I found your words.

    Cheers,
    Ev

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  5. I thought it was so-so, not great.

    I’d figured out a lot of the storylines. And I didn’t buy the ending … I found it weak.

    I liked the main character, Jim, but wasn’t all that crazy about his wife, Ellen. Not many of the characters are likeable.

    The F-word is used a lot … I don’t think it was necessary a lot of the time.

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