Linwood Barclay opens Look Both Ways with a foreward in which he tells us of his father’s love of cars – one he inherited. As a result, he describes his latest release as a bit of a departure from his usual style. It’s less of a ‘whodunnit’ and more of an action-packed thriller.
It didn’t entirely work for me but (then again) I’m more interested in something plot-driven rather than action-driven. I can certainly imagine this on the big or small screen however; where belief can be suspended and the fast-paced visuals drive the narrative. That said, the pacing (plot-wise) works well in the book as the action doesn’t let up from the opening to the very last page.Look Both Ways
by Linwood Barclay
Published by Harlequin Enterprises (Australia) Pty Ltd
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
The media have descended on Garrett Island, a small, isolated community that is the setting of a visionary experiment. All the residents’ cars were sent to the mainland and for the past month the islanders have been “driving” the Arrival, a revolutionary autonomous vehicle. With a simple voice command, an Arrival will take you wherever you want to go and, because the fleet is networked and aware of one another, car travel is now 100% safe.
The future, it seems, has arrived.
As the excitement reaches a fever pitch, Sandra Montrose – islander, single mom, and public relations executive – prepares for Arrival Inc.’s flashy press event. Sandra is more than ready for this new world. Her husband died after falling asleep at the wheel and she’s relieved that her two teens, Archie and Katie, will never need driver’s licenses.
But as the celebratory day gets underway, disaster strikes. A visiting journalist has vanished, possibly murdered. Before long, the Arrivals run amok, no longer taking orders from their passengers. They’re starting to organize. They’re beginning to hunt. And they seem hell-bent on killing any human they encounter.
This opens with a bang. The prologue seemed a bit too soon to climax so I wondered where Barclay would go from the opening sequence featuring a car that takes its instructions far too literally. We later learn the company making the ground-breaking self-driving car (the Gandalf) collapses as a result of the accident. The company’s owner (Brandon Kyle) is sure it was sabotage (though I’m not entirely sure that was resolved) and is now obsessed with ruining his major competitor (Arrival).
Sandra’s a likeable lead. We learn she lost her husband in an accident and is having a fling with the island’s chief of police – Joe (ex big city cop returned to Garrett Island to care for his elderly mother). Joe’s keen to move in with Sandra but she’s reluctant and worried how her two teenagers will react.
Barclay only spends minimal time introducing us to Joe, Sandra and her family before we’re into the action. It’s Arrival’s launch day and Sandra’s being bombarded with requests from the company (particularly the boss and her offsider) who are VERY demanding. And not particularly nice. Journalists are all being ferried to the island and we meet (ex Gandalf CEO) Kyle, in disguise and posing as a journalist.
We’re not exactly sure what he’s got planned but it’s obvious it’ll involve either spying or sabotage and we soon learn which. Barclay offers a somewhat enigmatic character in Kyle. He doesn’t seem that bad when we’re introduced to him, we understand his life’s work was destroyed and he’s seeking payback. However things turn quickly and he realises he’s in over his head… though ultimately cares little.
As the blurb suggests cars run amok, with their instructions ‘Do No Harm’ reversed. I suspect this is where the book (or a screen version) could border on horror as the bright, colourful sleek vehicles become killing machines. With no conscience and seemingly no off button.
Barclay offers Sandra as the lead protagonist and she’s certainly fighting to find her children and ensure they’re safe, but we also spend time with both teenagers, fighting for their lives. On top of which there is of course the fight of those on the island against the machines, expecting help to come when it doesn’t.
Though we know whodunnit and why Barclay throws in a few surprises for good measure and gives readers a splendid climax. And there are obvious messages about technology, greed and ambition and their dangers when no limits are imposed.
As I said, I can see this working on screen and suspect [the book] will appeal to lovers of fast paced thrillers as well. Barclay’s strong prose and characters are still present but muted a little here, for me, by the action.
Look Both Ways by Linwood Barclay will be published by Harlequin Australia (Harper Collins) in early August 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.