You can't fault the way Linwood Barclay draws you in at the start of A Tap on the Window. Without any beating around the bush, Private Investigator Cal Weaver finds himself not only accidentally caught-up in a missing person investigation, but he has actually assisted in helping the daughter of the town's Mayor disappear by giving her a lift. When Claire pulls a switch then it doesn't get past the eye of a PI, but the real question here is why has she run away and why has she gone to such lengths to do it?
It's an intriguing start and the direct writing holds you as well for what follows in tense and puzzling missing person investigation that has a few interesting aspects and personal issues that leave quite a few possibilities open. There's the small town setting where everyone knows everybody's business, but there's also a corrupt police force in operation, dispensing their own justice on troublemaking teenagers without feeling the need to trouble the courts, or indeed worrying about the necessary paperwork. And most of the townspeople are fine with that if it helps keeps the streets safe.
There's a good theme here then about justice, about crossing the lines, about how far you go to find things out and cover something up and whether it's not just better for everyone to just look away and let things lie. This attitude however introduces tensions between the Mayor and the Chief of Police and it just so happens that the Chief of Police is Cal's brother-in-law. There's also another personal dimension to Cal's interest in the town's troubles that mean that he can't let things lie. His son died a few years go through misadventure while high on drugs, and Cal wants to get to find out who was supplying and distributing drugs around Griffon. He's not above crossing a few lines himself.
Inevitably Cal's lines of inquiry, the actions of the police and search for the whereabouts of the missing girl all come together, though perhaps not the way you might think. Which is part of the problem. Barclay knows that the investigation is going to lose a lot of its mystery and tension once all the pieces start falling into place, so he throws a few standard twists to blindside the reader. That's kind of predictable, but it has to be said it does deliver a proper conclusion, even if it comes at a cost of a significant increase to the body count. Some might think however that Barclay has himself crossed the line here.