Book review: The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay

Monday, September 26, 2016 Permalink

I love love LOVED the first book in the Promise Falls series – Broken Promise – by Linwood Barclay. I loved our protagonist and struggling hero, David Harwood and the slightly-strange hometown he returned to.

I eagerly opened the second book (Far From True) on its arrival and was disappointed. Our lead character was relegated to a minor character and there was a new lead (PI Cal Weaver).

Other characters (police detective Barry Duckworth and dodgy businessman and former Mayor Randall Finley) reappeared and the underlying menace remained in the background… taunting us with something we weren’t yet seeing; but the crimes under investigation didn’t really grab my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the novel but was a tad confused. Barclay had introduced so many supposed protagonists and threads that I no longer knew who and what I needed to care about.

And finally, we get to the final and third book in the series, The Twenty-Three.

Book review: The Twenty-Three by Linwood BarclayThe Twenty Three (Promise Falls #3)
by Linwood Barclay
Series: Promise Falls #3
Published by Hachette Australia
on September 27th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781409146520
Pages: 400

The day begins like any other Saturday - a shower, coffee, breakfast.

But suddenly, all hell breaks loose in the town of Promise Falls.

People are dying in the street - the hospital and emergency services are overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Is it mass food poisoning, a virus, or something more sinister? Has someone, rather than something, caused this?

Detective Barry Duckworth is already investigating two murders and an explosion at the town's drive-in. He starts to wonder if these crimes and the new attacks are connected to the mysterious incidents in Promise Falls involving the number twenty-three.

But who is sending these deadly messages, and how can they be stopped?

Barry Duckworth, Randall Finley, David Harwood and Cal Weaver all feature in this third and final book in the series. Though… David again disappointed me. His character had so much potential. His focus, however was tracking down Sam – the woman he’d fallen in love with – who, along with her son, has inexplicably disappeared.

Duckworth is busy on two fronts… firstly someone has poisoned the town water supply. Hundreds of residents of Promise Falls are dying and there’s no cure. Fortunately they identify the source pretty quickly and Finley (former Mayor and wannabe return Mayor) comes under suspicion as his water bottling plant just happens to have increased production recently.

Detective Duckworth also finds himself with another murdered woman… seemingly the same work of the killer who’s been at large for years. His meagre police force is barely capable of investigating the two crimes, which may – or may not – be linked.

Like David, Cal’s on the scene, but briefly. And like David his role is an exceedingly disappointing one.

This last book is really all about Duckworth and his desire to close these cases once and for all.

On a positive note, The Twenty-Three is certainly a page-turner. I was babysitting for a friend and luckily the 5yr old slept well, as I was able to read the book in a sitting. Barclay throws many suspects into the mix. And just when we think we’ve got it worked out – Duckworth included – it seems we’re wrong.

I’m torn when it comes to sharing my thoughts however. On one hand this book seems like a fitting conclusion, but on the other I’m obviously frustrated at the waste of David and Cal as characters. Barclay distracted them with two small subplots which weren’t really necessary and felt a little irrelevant and anticlimactic.

I noted in the first book that there was A LOT happening in the background. “All prep for the other books,” I wrote at the time. Which was true. But I think Barclay’s planted too many seedlings and doused them with fertiliser and they’ve taken over. A series which is ostensibly about a serial killer and someone hellbent on revenge has included: a stolen baby, medical malpractice, sex parties, sex videos and rape, good ol’ murder with a motive, an imprisoned father whose parents are trying to steal their grandchild, someone fencing stolen items and many MANY family secrets. On top of that two of our leads have dead wives, one is struggling with his health and the other’s been involved in a sex scandal.

It’s all gripping stuff but I’m not sure we needed it all in just three books.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this final book of the series. We’re offered a sense of closure. Mostly.

And I’d recommend them. On one hand these books are all really different – as if written by different people each with their own plot idea and thoughts on who should feature and how they should appear. On the other I think you’d struggle with this if you hadn’t read the first book, and probably the second.

I look forward to bingeing on all three of these books down the track and re-examining my thoughts after that.

The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay was published in Australia by Hachette and will be released tomorrow.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


  • Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    September 27, 2016

    I’ve been wanting to read Barclay for awhile and I know I own several but while I’m thinking I’ll like other books this doesn’t sound like the book for me. I always hate when there’s an abundance of characters and plots to keep up with. I’ll keep in mind that you enjoyed the series but this isn’t what I’ll start with. Great review!

  • Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic
    September 28, 2016

    Great review! I haven’t read these books, but feel I have a good idea about them and your ambivalence about them. I think your comment about all three books feeling almost like they were written by three different people is so interesting.

    • Debbish
      September 29, 2016

      That’s what struck me eventually Jan… there’s a consistent theme of sorts running through them (‘the 23’ and the murders of the women) but I’m not sure the myriad of other plots did that justice.

  • Charlotte
    November 29, 2016

    Did I miss something? What is the stories regarding Cal and David” wives? At the end what happened with David and Sam and their story _ was left hanging. TG he story around Crystal made no sense.

    • Debbish
      November 30, 2016

      I can’t remember the details either but the first book mentioned David’s wife a lot and some role he had in her death (or his guilt over it or something). And yes I definitely agree… although I enjoyed this there were quite a few disappointments.

  • Andrew
    February 16, 2017

    David’s story begins in Never Look Away I think. Also, Cal’s starts in A Tap on The Window.

    • Debbish
      February 16, 2017

      Oh…. I hadn’t realised. I’ve definitely read Never Look Away!

  • Andrew
    February 16, 2017

    Regarding The Twenty Three, who ended up being responsible for the cinema screen collapsing?

    • Debbish
      February 16, 2017

      I think that was the baddie (23).

      But… I note there’s another book coming out so maybe it’s continuing!

I'd love to hear your thoughts