Private investigator Cal Weaver doesn’t know what to expect when he’s called to the home of Chandler Carson. The sixteen-year-old has been suspended for writing a violent story about a bat-wielding teen who beats his best friend to death over a girl. Much to Chandler’s mother’s surprise, there’s nothing that Cal is willing to do—or can do—about it.
Soon after, Chandler’s best friend is found murdered—beaten to death by a bat. Cal knew the victim, and now he knows the prime suspect. But there’s more to this story than anyone could have imagined...
“Barclay has established himself alongside the masters of suburban fiction.”—The Associated Press
“Twist-driven thrillers packed with explosive action are a hallmark of Barclay’s career.”—USA Today
Includes a preview of Linwood Barclay’s new hardcover, Far from True
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Titles by Linwood Barclay
Excerpt from Far From True
About the Author
“Come on, let’s go into the woods and look around!” said Charlie, swinging the baseball bat all over the place, banging it on trees as he walked by them.
“I don’t know,” said his friend Martin. “I don’t like it in there. It always creeps me out! Let’s stay out here by the road.”
“Just a little ways. Far enough in so we can see cars go by but they can’t see us.”
“Well, okay,” Martin said.
They walked more far into the woods. Then Charlie stopped and turned around to look at Martin right in the face and he said all angry-like, “So why did you go out with my girlfriend Katherine?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I know you and Katherine have had something going on! You went behind my back. I saw you guys making out!”
“That’s bullshit, man. I would never do that. You’re my friend!”
“Oh, yeah?” said Charlie really angrily. “I don’t think so.”
He swung the bat and hit Martin right in the head. BANG!
“Ow!” Martin yelled. “That hurts!”
Charlie hit him again and Martin fell down. Charlie kept swinging the bat at Martin’s head, breaking open his skull and—
“What do you think?”
I looked up from the laptop. “I’m sorry?” I said.
“What do you think?” Greta Carson asked. “Don’t you think it’s well written?”
“I’m not really a judge of literature,” I said. “I don’t see any spelling mistakes, if that’s what you mean.”
Greta’s son Chandler said, “The computer finds those and fixes them.”
“Please,” Greta said, putting a hand on her son’s knee, as if that’s where his mouth was and she was shutting him up. “Mr. Weaver doesn’t care about those things. What matters is the story. Isn’t that right, Cal?”
So she was calling me by my first name. We were already pals. I’d only been here ten minutes and I already had a feeling I didn’t want this case, whatever this case turned out to be. Based on what she’d told me over the phone, I would have turned it down, but she’d gotten my name from an old friend of my wife’s, so at the very least I felt I had to come out here.
I folded down the lid of the laptop and looked at the pair of them. Mrs. Carson was in her late forties, stick thin, her black hair molded tightly to her skull, pulled to the back of her head and spun around into something that looked like a small cinnamon bun. She wore a black silk blouse and expensive jeans, a tasteful strand of pearls at her neck.
Her sixteen-year-old son, Chandler, had a sense of style, too. Huge, white, unlaced sneakers that made him look something like a Clydesdale, jeans and a pullover sweatshirt emblazoned with three letters—PFH—that stood for Promise Falls High, where Chandler attended the eleventh grade. His mother had told me before I got here that he was relatively new to the school. He’d spent the previous two years at Claxton Academy, which was private.
“I think it’s a basic problem with the public school system,” Greta Carson told me on the phone. “They’re not into thinking outside the box.”
Chandler’s short story, of one kid beating another kid to death with a baseball bat, was evidently innovative thinking.
Her call had led me here, to this classic Victorian three-story house in one of Promise Falls’ more upscale neighborhoods. I’d only been back in town a few months, having spent the last decade or more in Griffon, north of Buffalo, and had been reacquainting myself with the various parts of the town that I’d known better back in the days when I patrolled them in a black-and-white.
Sitting here, in the Carsons’ living room, I said, “Why don’t we start at the beginning.”
“You don’t want to read the whole story?” Greta Carson asked.
“Maybe later,” I said. “I’m guessing what matters are the issues surrounding it.”
“It’s a freedom-of-speech issue, that’s what it is,” she said.
“Jeez, Mom, do we have to make such a big deal about this?” Chandler said. “Can’t I just be suspended for a few days and we let it go at that?”
“No!” she said adamantly. “Just when Chandler’s showing signs of initiative, that’s when they come down on him like a ton of bricks.”
“The beginning?” I said, hoping, at some point, to get the woman on track.
She took a deep breath, a signal that her telling of this would be anything but a short story.
“Chandler’s English teacher, Ms. Hamlin, asked the class to write a short story. Something creative, imaginative. So Chandler applied himself and wrote this story”—she tapped the closed laptop—“and now he finds himself being treated like some sort of psychotic degenerate.”
“I take it the suspension didn’t happen just like that,” I said.
“There was a meeting,” she said. “I was called down there.” She made it sound as though she’d been summoned to a thrift shop to choose a new wardrobe. “There was Ms. Hamlin, and the head of guidance, what was her name?”
“Ms. Brighton,” her son said. “Lucy Brighton. She was the only one I felt was on my side.”
“And the principal, Ms. Caldwell, was there, too. This is what happens when you have too many women in charge,” Greta Carson said. “They think all literature should be Eat, Pray, Love, which, by the way, I liked very much, but not everyone wants to read that kind of thing.”
“So what happened at the meeting?”
“Ms. Hamlin,” Greta said, “had a case of the vapors, I gather, when she read the story. She took it straight to the principal. She never gave him a chance to read it to the class, where his classmates would no doubt have found it to be a very engaging story. Ms. Hamlin and the others wanted to know why Chandler would write something like that.”
I looked at the boy. “Why did you write something like that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Why does anybody write anything?”
“Exactly,” his mother said. “How does one explain the creative process?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Chandler said. “The idea just came into my head, and I wrote it.”
“What was their concern?” I asked.
“They thought if I would write something like that,” Chandler said, “I must be like sick in the head. That I’d go out and actually kill somebody or something.”
Greta Carson nodded furiously. “Exactly. They wanted him to go for counseling or psychiatric testing or something like that. Unbelievable! There are lots of people who write dark and creepy things! My God, if Edgar Allan Poe or H. P. Lovecraft or Stephen King had had the misfortune to go to Promise Falls High, they’d have never had a writing career because some stupid teacher would have sent them off to be tested and put them on medication. It’s beyond ludicrous.”
“Have you written a lot of stories like this?” I asked Chandler.
Another shrug. “Not really. This was, you know, kind of a one-off.”
“But you like to write?”
“Once in a while.”
“I think this may be a talent of Chandler’s that is just now rising to the surface,” his mother said.
The phone rang.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Greta said, and reached for a cordless phone resting on a table next to the couch. “Hello? Oh, hi.” Her brow furrowed. “No, we haven’t seen him at all. Okay. Well, I’m sure it’s nothing. Okay. Listen, I have Mr. Weaver here right now, so why don’t I give you a call later?”
“What was that?” Chandler asked.
“Nothing,” his mother said. “Where were we?”
I asked Chandler, “What made you write this specific story?”
Again, his mother jumped in. “Are you saying he was wrong to write it?”
I turned and looked at her as patiently as I could. “I’m just trying to get the big picture here.” I looked back at Chandler. “So why did you write this?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I wanted to bring my grade up in that class.”
“You haven’t been doing that well?”
“Not really,” he said. “Ms. Hamlin doesn’t like me.”
“A lot of the teachers have it in for him,” his mother said quickly.
“Why would that be?”
Now it was her turn to shrug. “I just don’t know.”
“Have you been in any trouble before this?” I asked Chandler.
“Um,” he said.