Sometimes you really don’t know people as well as you think you do.
The above is something that is said quite often, and it’s especially true for the characters within Canadian author Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, A Noise Downstairs. A book in which lies, deceit and misunderstandings all lead to something serious.
Here, our main character is one Paul Davis; a Connecticut college professor whose life almost ended on one seemingly random night. It was on that fateful eve where Paul — who was driving home on a quiet and almost deserted road — stumbled upon his friend, colleague and mentor, who was driving erratically. After watching the man deposit something into a dumpster, Paul parked behind him in an attempt to find out if something was wrong. It wasn’t long after that when his life almost came to a close, after he was hit over the head and left to die by this friend-turned-monster. Thankfully, a police officer took notice of the erratic driving and had suspicions of his own, else Paul could have very well died on the side of that driven on piece of pavement.
The reason Paul was attacked was as old as time itself: murder. When Paul approached the vehicle, what he discovered wasn’t a drunken driver, but someone who was trying to find a place to dispose of the bodies of two women that he had formerly been having affairs with. Two women who worked at the very same college as both men.
After spending time in the hospital, our protagonist was forced to take time off of work, and has been away from his lecture halls for approximately eight months. At home with his loving but distant second wife, Charlotte, he’s working on getting back to the man he once was. He’s alive and thankful, and is happy to still be there to see his son, Josh, grow up during visits. However, memory loss, including forgotten texts, drives and discussions, still continue to plague him.
Thanks to a suggestion, Paul decides that he could maybe come to grips with what happened by writing about his experience, which leads to the idea of visiting the killer — one Kenneth Hoffman — in prison. To help with this, Charlotte gives him a present, that being an old Underwood typewriter for his office. The thing is, though, that before the two mistresses had their throats garishly slit, they were put in front of a similar typewriter and forced to type out apologies, for whatever reason. That typewriter was never found, and when his new gift starts to make noise in the middle of the night, Paul starts to wonder if he now owns the exact model that was used during the murders.
It’s the aforementioned noise that acts as a catalyst and a disturbance within this 355 page novel, because once the typewriter is brought into the house it begins to wreak havoc on Paul’s life and sanity. He awakens in the middle of the night, drawn from sleep by the chit, chit, chit of typewriter keys. However, when he wakes his wife, Charlotte, she’s oblivious to the noise and starts to wonder if her husband is losing his mind.
Through the help of another major character — Paul’s psychologist, Dr. Anna White — he battles the thoughts that plague his mind, and the assumptions of others. Is he really losing his mind? Is he the one who’s responsible for the text-based messages that begin appearing inside his home after paper is inserted into the typewriter? Does he simply forget doing it?
As expected, A Noise Downstairs is very much a Linwood Barclay story, so that means readers have twists and turns to look forward to. The story within is pretty interesting, and starts off well, but it does meander a bit and parts ended up being kind of predictable. It may not be Linwood Barclay’s best work (which, so far, I consider to be Never Look Away), but it is a pretty solid read.
If you’re looking for a decent to good summer thriller, then A Noise Downstairs is worth checking out for sure. Just don’t expect it to be the best thing you’ve ever read.
**This review is based on a copy of the book that was provided to us by its American publisher.**