It may be a cliché to say that a novel was impossible to put down. But this is true in case of the novel “No time for Goodbyes” by Linwood Barclay. This best -selling novel has its high point at the beginning where we are told that a teenage girl wakes up one day to find her parents and her brother missing. This not only awakens the curiosity of the reader but is also a fascinating plot as it is the reversal of the traditional ‘child-gone-missing’ theme. Fourteen year old Cynthia Bigge is portrayed as a typical troublesome teenager who is caught out late one night with her boyfriend. She is dragged home by her fuming father, Clayton Bigge. She then storms into her room and locks herself fueled by the alcohol she had consumed with her boyfriend where she falls into slumber. It’s only late in the morning after to struggles to drag herself out of her bed that she realizes her father, mother, Patricia and brother, Todd are missing with no note of explanation. She is left with a mixed feeling of abandonment, guilt and curiosity.
The novel then takes us twenty fives ahead. Cynthia is now in her late thirties, married and with a daughter, but the pain of her family’s disappearance still lingers in her life. From this point though, the reader tends to get slightly detached from the novel as her husband, Terry Archer is now the narrator. The novel also takes a boring turn here as we’re waiting for an explanation for her family’s disappearance which Barclay has managed to drag to quite an extent. It describes the way in which Terry helps her get an answer. But there are also parts where Ted along with the readers is given an impression that Cynthia herself must have been responsible for her family to vanish like that. It also suggests at several points that Cynthia has lost her mind and is hallucinating her father. The plot also includes Tess Burman, Cynthia’s elderly aunt, her only living relative. It was Tess who brought up Cynthia following the disappearance of her family. Despite financial issues she managed to get Cynthia through university.
It was during her higher-ed years that Terry met Cynthia, and after a short courtship they married and settled back in New England. When Grace was born, Cynthia gave up her career in order to look after her daughter. Money is tight in the Archer household, with Terry being a teacher; however, he loves his job, and school Principal Roland “Rolly” Carruthers is a personal friend not only of Terry, but also Cynthia. Their content life is disturbed following Cynthia’s appearance on a reality show called Deadline. Cynthia’s anxiousness to discover the reason for her family to vanish increases to such an extent that she starts showing signs of obsession and paranoia, at a certain point putting her marriage in trouble. Barclay has used a large array of characters mixing up the past and the present throughout the novel forming parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Eventually things start getting chaotic for the Archer family.
Cynthia spots a brown car in their neighborhood, just following her and Grace, as they walk to Grace’s school. Fearing for her daughter’s safety, she starts projecting her paranoia onto Terry. They visit her aunt Tess, who in confidence speaks to Terry and tells him a secret that she has kept from Cynthia all these years. On their way back from visiting Tess, Cynthia and Terry discover that their house has been broken into, and left on their kitchen table is a tatty black fedora hat, the same type of hat that Cynthia’s father, Clayton, used to wear. This story’s tension is ratcheted up another notch, as Cynthia becomes convinced that her family is not dead, after all. She persuades Terry to engage the services of Denton Abagnall, a private investigator, and have him re-examine what happened on that fateful night so long ago. Moving on, the plot brings out several deaths; murders to be precise.
This stirs up the level of suspicion and suggests dangers from the past that should perhaps not be tampered with and left alone. It also lads to Cynthia losing grip on her sanity as she begins to see figures from her younger days. When the Archers find a letter and map in their house, supposedly indicating where Cynthia’s long-lost family are “hidden,” the police finally start to develop an interest in this cold case. They’re especially intrigued by the fact that the letter appears to have been typed on husband Terry’s ancient Smith-Corona machine. At which point a terrified Cynthia flees, leaving Terry to question everything. He has no better options than to pick up the leads left behind by detective Abagnall, many of which point to the involvement of his wife’s ex-boyfriend, criminal, Vince Fleming.
Turning over each page of the novel, a new kind of suspicion is born in the minds of the readers. Characters are used in such a way that the most trust worthy ones end up being the main culprits and the ones you would tend to despise turn out to be completely innocent. The fact that Clayton Bigge had been using a false identity and had another secret family is a quite a shocker. It seems that the disappearance of Cynthia Bigge’s family was far more complex than even she imagined and the past is far closer than she supposed. Following the trail of events that occurs throughout the novel, Terry and Cynthia are finally successful in finding out the disappearance and death of her family and the actual course of events that led up to it. This manages to bring a sense of satisfaction in the minds of the reader as it means that Cynthia now has the answers to her questions and can now move on with the life she’d left incomplete twenty five years ago. In critical terms, even though the book can be disappointing at certain points, overall, it is quite a page turner.