Bad Move: A Novel
By Linwood Barclay
By John Glassie, Dallas Morning News, July 2004.
The hero of this comic novel is neurotic. Put more diplomatically, he's a safety nut. And he goes out of his way to teach the members of his family lessons about everyday risk. If his wife leaves her car keys in her car for a moment, he pretends to steal it. If his son leaves his backpack at the stop of the stairs, he pretends to trip over it, fall down the steps, and die of a broken neck.
Although a long-time urban dweller, this Zack Walker has recently and rather naively become convinced that life in the city is more dangerous than life in the suburbs, and has moved his family out of their townhouse and into a brand-new development where "there isn't a tree within a fifteen-block radius that could cast a shadow."
"Crackheads, hookers, and child murderers weren't common fixtures at the corners of streets with names like Green Valley Drive and Rustling Pines Lane," Walker explains. But pretty early on in Bad Move, Linwood Barclay's entirely decent beach-read, it's clear that international marijuana entrepreneurs, kick-back-receiving councilmen and stop-at-nothingly corrupt land-developers are up the driveways of those streets. (The suburban hookers, for their part, are just much more upscale.)
Walker was a newspaperman at his generic big-city daily (generically called the Metropolitan) but now makes his living writing science fiction books about, for instance, going "back in time to keep the inventor of the hot-air hand dryer from being born" and "nasty sewer creatures that pass among us by disguising themselves as cable company executives."
During the day, after his wife commutes into the city and his kids go to school, when he's supposed to be working at home, Walker sniffs and procrastinates his way right into the shadowy (but on the other hand, don't forget, shadowless) underworld of his cookie-cuttered neighborhood -- and gets himself into a heep of ironic danger. It's danger more dangerous then any danger he moved to those very suburbs to avoid.
Barclay's writing itself can seem like the suburbs. Although benign, risk-averse and often flat -- after Walker finishes telling a neighbor a story, he, the narrator, says, "I told Trixie that was the end of my story" -- it also offers the creature comforts that make for broad appeal.
Bad Move is in fact a novel that reads like a mainstream movie. As such, it moves along on well-crafted and twisty -- if, on occasion, slightly transparent -- plotting. And as such, that is to say, as a novel whose main and perfectly worthy missions are to entertain and to provide the pleasure of anticipation for the next page, it achieves its goals.