Friday, December 13, 2019


Title: A Noise Downstairs
Author: Linwood Barclay
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 368
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Paul Davis, a college professor, follows the erratic driving of his colleague and mentor, Kenneth Hoffman, thinking he is either drunk or sleepy. Only to learn that Kenneth has killed two women and is none too happy at being caught trying to dispose of the bodies.

Eight months later, Paul is slowly recovering from the trauma of being physically assaulted with an attempt to murder but the nightmares and fears and the sensation of sleepwalking through the day persist.

Hoping to put the trauma away, Paul decides to confront the evil head on. If I can look into the eyes of evil in the real world, maybe I won’t have to run from it in my sleep.

Charlotte, Paul’s second wife, gifts Paul an Underwood typewriter, to encourage him to put his thoughts into writing as a way of processing his fears and seeking healing. That’s where it begins.  Paul begins to hear the click of the typewriter keys in the middle of the night. 

But Charlotte, sleeping by his side, can’t hear a thing. What’s more, the typewriter always has a message waiting for Paul, one that seems to come from the dead women and tortures poor Paul.

Charlotte is at the end of her tether. She wonders if Paul is delusional, a theory which seems increasingly likely, given the fact that Paul’s memories are affected by the trauma. It’s either that or the alternative, that he is deliberately trying to drive her up the wall. Or that he is somehow responsible for whatever is happening.

It doesn’t help that Kenneth had made the two women type suicide notes on the Underwood typewriter he owned, one that he had subsequently disposed of and the police never found. Paul wonders if it is the same typewriter and if it is haunted by the spirits of the women he killed.

Will Paul solve the mystery of the haunted typewriter or will he give in to the nightmares that plague him?

We get the third person past tense PoV of Paul and of Anna White, his therapist, in alternate chapters. There is also a chapter from the third person PoV of Gavin Hitchens, Anna’s patient, who is a sociopath and suffers from a complete lack of empathy.

There are references to James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Water Mitty and Philip Roth’s Pastoral, in keeping with the fact that Paul is a professor of English Literature. Frank, Anna’s father, has been an animator at Warner Brothers, so he enjoys talking about Bugs Bunny and other animated series that he worked on.

The language is mostly clean, except for some use of the F- word.

There is no rational explanation for what is happening, and yet you know there should be one. This is not the paranormal at work. 

The thriller keeps you on the edge for the most part, and the resolution is neatly handled too. The twists kept coming, long after I thought I’d seen it all.

The person responsible turned out to be exactly the person I suspected, but the manner in which it was plotted was unlike what I had imagined.

I liked Paul, and felt upset at what he was going through. When the typewriter, which he and Charlotte had put away in the garage, shows up on his bedside table, it tips him over the edge.

The cover, with its close-up of the typewriter keys, was a neat touch. 

I look forward to reading more by this author.

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