A Tap on the Window: Linwood Barclay on his new thriller

First aired on Here and Now (14/08/13)

Linwood Barclay has just published his 13th novel, A Tap on the Window, and he recently dropped by Here and Now to talk about this latest book and his career as a writer of dark, suspenseful -- and bestselling -- thrillers.

Barclay's breakthrough book was No Time for Goodbye, his fifth novel. He told guest host Mary Ito that his first four books didn't sell well, and so he and his agent both felt "it was time to switch gears and stop doing a series, first of all, and stop the funny .Funny crime novels are a really narrow niche market. Janet Evanovich and who else? So I switched gears."

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One morning, he said, he woke up "with an idea about a 14-year-old girl who wakes up, her family's gone, she doesn't know what's happened to them. Twenty five years go by. I pitched that to my agent and she said, 'That's it, that's great.' And she likes to know the whole story, so she said, 'What happened to the family?' And I said, 'I don't know, I have no idea. But we'll figure that out.'"

No Time for Goodbye went on to become a worldwide bestseller. "It's done a few million copies," Barclay said. "That was kind of a good springboard for everything that came after."

His latest thriller, A Tap on the Window, is about a private detective, Cal Weaver. "He and his wife lost their son in a drug mishap. When the book opens, he's driving home one night and there's a young teenage girl looking for a ride, she's hitchhiking. And he knows the dumbest thing a 40-year-old guy could do is give a teenage girl a ride home," Barclay said. "But when he puts down the window, she says, 'Oh, you're Scott's dad.' She recognizes him...He gives her a lift and something very, very strange happens during the ride."

Barclay doesn't have a formula per se, but he said that what he needs when he starts writing a story is "a great hook. I need a situation that I would hope grabs the reader by the throat, and you just think, I have to read on and find out what on earth happened here," he said. "So once I have an opening that I think not only is a real grabber but also has the potential to be a big story, that there's enough that happened behind the scenes to flesh out 400 pages, then I think OK, I think this will work."

When it comes to coming up with scary situations, Barclay said he taps into "the kind of anxieties we all have." And his novels feature protagonists who are just regular people. "They're teachers and landscapers and car salesmen. These are the people that I know. I've never tried to smuggle plutonium, I don't know how to do that...but I know the kind of anxieties that come with having a family and raising kids, the kind of things that touch all of us," he said. "So those are the things I kind of mine and tap into because I think, yeah, people will get that."

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