When David Harwood visits his cousin Marla, he’s astonished to discover her nursing a baby that she claims is her own, because Marla’s baby died at birth, ten months ago, leaving her emotionally fragile and mentally unstable. She tells him a wild tale of how an angel brought the baby and asked her to take care of it. David’s worried enough by this story, but when he spots blood on the doorframe, he’s even more concerned. And when the mother of the baby is found, knifed to death, things look bleak indeed for Marla. So David, an unemployed journalist, agrees to see if he can find out the truth…
The book reminded me of losing at a game of snakes and ladders. It starts off very well – both writing and story flow along easily, David is a likeable character and at this early stage the plot seems intriguing. But then another plot is introduced, and another, and another… and suddenly I felt as if I was sliding down that pesky snake hoping for someone to throw the dice and get me back on the ladder. Sadly that didn’t happen. By a quarter of the way in at the most, the solution to the main plot is blindingly obvious – not just the who, but also the why and the how. So obvious I felt it must be a clever double-bluff, but it isn’t.
In the meantime, sub-plots keep developing exponentially. Barclay sets them up, always very interestingly – I have no quarrel at all with the quality of either his writing or characterisation, both of which are excellent throughout (though I could have lived without the tediously unimaginative and constant swearing). But then he forgets about them for ages, before suddenly bringing them back into the narrative, long after I’d either forgotten or lost interest in them, merely serving to slow down and break the flow of the main plot. At first, I thought they might all come together in some incredibly complex solution and looked forward to seeing how he’d achieve that. But it gradually becomes clear that, while there are some tenuous links between them, mostly they are completely separate strands. I still hoped they would be resolved or at least explained though – I don’t feel that’s too much to ask. It’s not as if the cover says “Part 1”…
…and yet, that’s precisely what this is. While the main plot is resolved (exactly as had been obvious for almost the entirety of the book), the other ones are left hanging, like the old Saturday Matinee cliffhangers… To Be Continued! But unlike them, we’d have to wait considerably longer than a week to find out what happened. If we care, that is. Personally I don’t. I don’t mind reading a trilogy, or even a Harry Potter-esque 7 book series, if someone tells me in advance that that’s what I’m about to read. But if they sell a book as a complete novel, then that’s what it should be. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory here, but I’m not talking about the kind of continuing background story arc that happens in many series – these are actual unresolved plots, murders left unexplained, investigations left halfway through, etc.
I’m sorely tempted to give this 1 star but, despite my real annoyance at being left hanging, I enjoyed the writing style enough to consider reading one of his other novels some time. But I’ll check the reviews first to see if it has an ending. And less swearing.
And, in the meantime, I’ll only recommend this if you don’t mind knowing early on how the main plot will work out, and never finding out how the sub plots do.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion.