Monday, December 26, 2016

The Twenty-Three

by Linwood Barclay
Berkley Books    2016
464 pages     Mystery/Thriller

I am seeing the number 23 everywhere—now that I have completed the Promise Falls trilogy by Linwood Barclay, and it occurred to me that 23 is a prime number. I wonder if that is why Barclay chose it as the number to run through the entire series. At the beginning, the number was very mysterious, and then I thought it meant the number of people that would die over the course of Broken Promise, Far from True and The Twenty-Three. However, now that I have finished the series, I believe that the number doesn't really matter because there are way more than 23 dead people---too many to count!  

The Twenty-Three begins with another disaster; more than a hundred people die after drinking the water early one morning of Memorial Day weekend. The hospitals and the morgue are filling up and ambulances are screeching down every street. Every character from the other books in the trilogy shows up, but almost first on the scene is Randall Finley, who owns a local water bottling company and is also running for mayor. It seems that his company has been bottling water in anticipation of some big event—he says it is for the warm summer weather ahead. Of course, every bottle has his name on it, and he sets up shop to distribute the water in the city park. He allows himself to be filmed by every major news outlet in the country and his name is on everyone's lips, both literally and figuratively. The reader immediately suspects that he may have poisoned the water for his own ulterior motives.

Mayhem is happening all over Promise Falls—not just because of the poisoned water. Every character's drama from the past two books is played out in this finale—but not every plot twist is resolved. Some of the characters die from the water; others are murdered; and still others are enormously conflicted. Promise Falls remains a town that I wouldn't go to visit if you paid me!

I believe that the two major plot devices are ripped from the headlines. Surely the poisoned water is a reference to the Flint water crisis, with which we in Michigan are still coping. Just as I was reading The Twenty-Three, indictments came down on the Flint Department of Public Works director and two of the emergency managers who were involved when the water got poisoned. The director of the water department in Promise Falls was a bit of an idiot, so apparently Barclay was well aware of the idiots who were running the city of Flint. The other ironic thing is the self-serving Randall Finley, the would-be mayor, with his name plastered over all the bottled water in the city. Remind you of any other self-serving would-be public servant with a name plastered all over everything!!! But I digress. 

Don't try to read The Twenty-Three without having read the other two books in the series. There are too many characters and too many crazy plot devices. Some of the loose ends get tied up satisfactorily, but others cause the reader to shrug and groan. All in all, however the Promise Falls trilogy is great escapism and a reminder that sometimes fiction is stranger than truth.

Linwood Barclay website.

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