Fear the Worst

Fear the Worst

3.8 56
by Linwood Barclay

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Tim Blake is an average guy. He sells cars. He has an ex-wife who’s moved in with another man. It’s not a life without hassles, but nothing will prepare him for when his daughter, Sydney, vanishes into thin air.

At the hotel where she supposedly worked, no one has ever heard of her. Even her closest friends seem to be at a loss. As he retraces Sydney

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Tim Blake is an average guy. He sells cars. He has an ex-wife who’s moved in with another man. It’s not a life without hassles, but nothing will prepare him for when his daughter, Sydney, vanishes into thin air.

At the hotel where she supposedly worked, no one has ever heard of her. Even her closest friends seem to be at a loss. As he retraces Sydney’s steps, Tim discovers that the suburban Connecticut town he always thought of as idyllic is anything but. What he doesn’t know is that his every move is being watched. There are others who want to find Sydney as much as Tim does. And the closer Tim comes to the truth, the closer he comes to every parent’s worst nightmare—and the kind of evil only a parent’s love has a chance in hell of stopping.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Readers will find themselves desperate to finish just one more page before putting the book down . . . a page-turning thriller that’s intense, compelling, and for the most part, expertly paced.” – Kirkus

“Barclay earns a solid A for his page-turning plot.“—Publishers Weekly

“Barclay's pacing is impeccable…an uncomfortably plausible tale ... a page-turner that keeps the reader guessing until the end.”—Denver Post

“Gripping…Unfold[s] with mounting tension and suspense…believable and scary for being rooted in human-sized characters and laced with saving humor.” –Wall Street Journal

Marilyn Stasio
Although the book's villains are way too crude, Barclay is more subtle in analyzing teenage attitudes and behavior, and comes up with revelations that would make any parent's hair stand on end.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In Barclay's new thriller, Tim Blake, a car salesman in a Honda dealership in Milford, Conn., has more troubles than a Yugo up for its inspection sticker: his wife has left him to shack up with a car dealer rival; he has a devil-wears-Prada–style boss; and, worst, his teenage daughter, Sydney, has disappeared from her summer job at the Just Inn Time hotel. Barclay does a decent job of depicting the fright, fantasies and rage of a parent whose child faces prolonged and uncertain danger, but the narrator exists chiefly as a sketch or plot device rather than a complex, compelling individual. The author explores a timely social issue, human trafficking, but the villains behind it are even less defined than the narrator. Still, Barclay (Bad Move) earns a solid A for his page-turning plot. In short, this is a functional stripped-down Civic of a book that gets you there. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
A daughter's mysterious disappearance thrusts her father into the world of violence and deception that lurks just below the surface of his nondescript Connecticut suburb. Okay, so maybe the Blakes' family life hasn't always been perfect. Tim sells cars for a living and is pretty good at it, but his disastrous attempt at running his own dealership led to a divorce from Susanne. Still, their daughter Sydney seems happy enough while spending the summer with her father, hanging out with friends and working part-time at a local motel. So when Syd fails to appear for dinner one night after getting into a small fight with Tim, everyone assumes she's just left for a bit to cool off. But when time passes and she still hasn't returned, her father starts digging around, only to discover that the folks at the motel where Syd worked claim never to have heard of her. Soon a bewildered Tim finds himself in over his head, in trouble with cops and criminals alike. Tim is perfect as the regular schmo who suddenly finds himself thrust into a subterranean world of crime and intrigue, discovering his dark side as events force his hand. But the author occasionally succumbs to a tempo-wrecking focus on unnecessary detail. Scenes involving cars in particular tend to read like something out of a Honda brochure, as Tim rattles off long lists of features. (When a kidnapper speeds off with him as a hostage, he grabs in panic "the brushed-aluminum passenger door handle.") Other than that, though, the timing is just right, and most readers will find themselves desperate to finish just one more page before putting the book down. Barclay (No Time for Goodbye, 2007, etc.) has written a page-turning thriller that'sintense, compelling and, for the most part, expertly paced.

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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6.94(w) x 4.30(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"We've also been looking at the Mazda," the woman said. "And we took a—Dell, what was it called? The other one we took out for a test drive?"

Her husband said, "A Subaru."

"That's right," the woman said. "A Subaru."

The woman, whose name was Lorna, and her husband, whose name was Dell, were sitting across the desk from me in the showroom of Riverside Honda. This was the third time they'd been in to see me since I'd come back to work. There comes a point, even when you're dealing with the worst crisis of your life, when you find yourself not knowing what else to do but fall back into your routine.

Lorna had on the desk, in addition to the folder on the Accord, which was what Lorna and Dell had been talking to me about, folders on the Toyota Camry, the Mazda 6, the Subaru Legacy, the Chevrolet Malibu, the Ford Taurus, the Dodge Avenger, and half a dozen others at the bottom of the stack that I couldn't see.

"I notice that the Taurus has 263 horsepower with its standard engine, but the Accord only has 177 horsepower," Lorna said.

"I think you'll see," I said, working hard to stay focused, "that the Taurus engine with that horsepower rating is a V6, while the Accord is a four-cylinder. You'll find it still gives you plenty of pickup, but uses way less gas."

"Oh," Lorna said, nodding. "What are the cylinders, exactly? I know you told me before, but I don't think I remember."

Dell shook his head slowly from side to side. That was pretty much all Dell did during these visits. He sat there and let Lorna ask all the questions, do all the talking, unless he was asked something specific, and even then he usually just grunted. He appeared to be losing the will to live. I guessed he'd been sitting across the desk of at least a dozen sales associates between Bridgeport and New Haven over the last few weeks. I could see it in his face, that he didn't give a shit what kind of car they got, just so long as they got something.

But Lorna believed they must be responsible shoppers, and that meant checking out every car in the class they were looking at, comparing specs, studying warranties. All of which was a good thing, to a point, but now Lorna had so much information that she didn't know what to do with it. Lorna thought all this research would help them make an informed decision, but instead it had made it impossible for her to make one at all.

They were in their mid-forties. He was a shoe salesman in the Connecticut Post Mall, and she was a fourth-grade teacher. This was standard teacher behavior. Research your topic, consider all the options, go home and make a chart, car names across the top, features down the side, make check marks in the little boxes.

Lorna asked about the Accord's rear legroom compared to the Malibu, which might have been an issue if they had kids, or if she'd given any indication they had any friends. By the time she was on to the Accord's trunk space versus the Mazda 6, I really wasn't listening. Finally, I held up a hand.

"What car do you like?" I asked Lorna.

"Like?" she said.

My computer monitor was positioned between us, and the whole time Lorna was talking I was moving the mouse around, tapping the keyboard. Lorna assumed I was on the Honda website, calling up data so I could answer her questions.

I wasn't. I was on findsydneyblake.com. I was looking to see whether there'd been any recent hits on the site, whether anyone had emailed me. One of Sydney's friends, a computer whiz—actually, any of Syd's friends was a computer whiz compared to me—by the name of Jeff Bluestein had helped me put together the website, which had all the basic information.

There was a full description of Syd. Age: 17. Date of birth: April 15, 1992. Weight: approximately 115 pounds. Eye color: Blue. Hair: Blonde. Height: 5 feet 3 inches.

Date of disappearance: June 29, 2009.

Last seen: Leaving for work from our address on Hill Street. Might have been spotted in the vicinity of the Just Inn Time hotel, in Milford, Connecticut.

There was also a description of Syd's silver Civic, complete with license plate number.

Visitors to the website, which Jeff had linked to other sites about runaways and missing teens, were encouraged to call police, or get in touch with me, Tim Blake, directly. I'd gone through as many photos as I could find of Syd, hit up her friends for pictures they had as well, including ones they'd posted on their various Internet sites like Facebook, and plastered them all over findsydneyblake.com. I had hundreds of pictures of Syd, going back through all her seventeen years, but I'd only posted ones from the last six months or so.

Wherever Syd might be, it wasn't with extended family. Susanne's and my parents were dead, neither of us had siblings, and what few relatives we had—an aunt here, an uncle there—we'd put on alert.

"Of course," said Lorna, "we're well aware of the excellent repair records that the Hondas have, and good resale value."

I'd had two emails the day before, but not about Sydney. They were from other parents. One was from a father in Providence, telling me that his son Kenneth had been missing for a year now, and there wasn't a moment when he didn't think about him, wonder where he was, whether he was dead or alive, whether it was something he'd done, as a father, that had driven Kenneth away, or whether his son had met up with the wrong kind of people, that maybe they had—

It wasn't helpful.

The second was from a woman outside Albany who'd stumbled onto the site and told me she was praying for my daughter and for me, that I should put my faith in God if I wanted Sydney to come home safely, that it would be through God that I'd find the strength to get through this.
I deleted both emails without replying.

"But the Toyotas have good resale value as well," Lorna said. "I was looking in Consumer Reports, where they have these little charts with all the red dots on them? Have you noticed those? Well, there are lots of red dots if the cars have good repair records, but if the cars don't have good repair records there are lots of black dots, so you can tell at a glance whether it's a good car or not by how many red or black dots are on the chart? Have you seen those?"

I checked to see whether there were any messages now. The thing was, I had already checked for messages three times since Lorna and Dell had sat down across from me. When I was at my desk, I checked about every three minutes. At least twice a day I phoned Milford police detective Kip Jennings—I'd never met a Kip before, and hadn't expected that when I finally did it would be a woman—to see what progress she was making. She'd been assigned Sydney's case, although I was starting to think "assigned" was defined as "the detective who has the case in the back of his or her desk drawer."

In the time that Lorna had been going on about Consumer Reports recommendations, a message had dropped into my inbox. I clicked on it and learned that there was a problem with my Citibank account and if I didn't immediately confirm all my personal financial details it would be suspended, which was kind of curious considering that I did not have a Citibank account and never had.
"Jesus Christ," I said aloud. The site had only been up for nearly three weeks—Jeff got it up and running within days of Syd's disappearance—and already the spammers had found it.

"Excuse me?" Lorna said.

I glanced at her. "I'm sorry," I said. "Just something on my screen there. You were saying, about the red dots."

"Were you even listening to me?" she asked.

"Absolutely," I said.

"Have you been looking at some dirty website all this time?" she said, and her husband's eyebrows went up. If there was porn on my screen, he wanted a peek.

"They don't allow that when we're with customers," I said earnestly.

"I just don't want us to make a mistake," Lorna said. "We usually keep our cars for seven to ten years, and that's a long time to have a car if it turns out to be a lemon."

"Honda doesn't make lemons," I assured her.

I needed to sell a car. I hadn't made a sale since Syd went missing. The first week, I didn't come into work. It wasn't like I was home, sick with worry. I was out eighteen hours a day, driving the streets, hitting every mall and plaza and drop-in shelter in Milford and Stratford. Before long, I'd broadened the search to include Bridgeport and New Haven. I showed Syd's picture to anyone who'd look at it. I called every friend I could ever recall her mentioning.

I went back to the Just Inn Time, trying to figure out where the hell Syd was actually going every day when I'd believed she was heading into the hotel.

I'd had very little sleep in the twenty-four days since I'd last seen her.

"You know what I think we're going to do?" Lorna said, scooping the pamphlets off the desk and shoving them into her oversized purse. "I think we should take one more look at the Nissan."

"Why don't you do that?" I said. "They make a very good car."

I got to my feet as Lorna and Dell stood. Just then, my phone rang. I glanced at it, recognized the number on the call display, let it go to message, although this particular caller might not choose to leave yet another one.

"Oh," said Lorna, putting something she'd been holding in her hand onto my desk. It was a set of car keys. "When we were sitting in that Civic over there"—she pointed across the showroom—"I noticed someone had left these in the cup holder."

She did this every time she came. She'd get in a car, discover the keys, scoop them up and deliver them to me. I'd given up explaining to her it was a fire safety thing, that we left the keys in the showroom cars so that if there was a fire, we could get them out in a hurry, time permitting.

"How thoughtful," I said. "I'll put these away someplace safe."

"You wouldn't want anyone driving a car right out of the showroom, now would you?" She laughed.
Dell looked as though he'd be happy if the huge Odyssey minivan in the center of the floor ran him over.

"Well, we might be back," Lorna said.

"I've no doubt," I said. I wasn't in a hurry to deal with her again, so I said, "Just to be sure, you might want to check out the Mitsubishi dealer. And have you seen the new Saturns?"

"No," Lorna said, suddenly alarmed that she might have overlooked something. "That first one—what was it?"


Dell was giving me dagger eyes. I didn't care. Let Lorna torment some other salespeople for a while. Under normal conditions, I'd have tolerated her indecision. But I hadn't been myself since Syd went missing.

A few seconds after they'd left the showroom, my desk phone trilled. No reason to get excited. It was an inside line.

I picked up. "Tim here."

"Got a second?"

"Sure," I said, and replaced the receiver.

I walked over to the other side of the showroom, winding my way through a display that included a Civic, the Odyssey, a Pilot, and a boxy green Element with the suicide rear doors.

I'd been summoned to the office of Laura Cantrell, sales manager. Mid-forties with the body of a twenty-five-year-old, twice married, single for four years, brown hair, white teeth, very red lips. She drove a silver S2000, the limited-production two-seater Honda sports car that we sold, maybe, a dozen of a year.

"Hey, Tim, sit down," she said, not getting up from behind her desk. Since she had an actual office, and not a cubicle like the lowly sales staff, I was able to close her door as she'd asked.

I sat down without saying anything. I wasn't much into small talk these days.

"So how's it going?" Laura asked.

I nodded. "Okay."

She nodded her head in the direction of the parking lot, where Lorna and Dell were at this moment getting into their eight-year-old Buick. "Still can't make up their minds?"

"No," I said. "You know the story about the donkey standing between two bales of hay that starves because he can't decide which one to eat first?"

Laura wasn't interested in fables. "We have a good product. Why can't you close this one?"

"They'll be back," I said resignedly.

Laura leaned back in her swivel chair, folded her arms below her breasts. "So, Tim, any news?"
I knew she was asking about Syd. "No," I said.

She shook her head sympathetically. "God, it must be rough."

"It's hard," I said.

"Did I ever tell you I was a runaway myself once?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I was sixteen, and my parents were ragging on me about everything. School, my boyfriends, staying out late, you name it, they had a list. So I thought, screw it, I'm outta here, and I took off with this boy named Martin, hitched around the country, saw America, you know?"

"Your parents must have been worried sick."

Laura Cantrell offered up a "who cares" shrug.

"The point is," she said, "I was fine. I just needed to find out who I was. Get out from under their thumb. Be my own self. Fly solo, you know? At the end of the day, that's what matters. Independence."

I didn't say anything.

"Look," she said, leaning forward now, resting her elbows on the desk. I got a whiff of perfume. Expensive, I bet. "Everyone around here is pulling for you. We really are. We can't imagine what it's like, going through what you're going through. Unimaginable. We all want Cindy to come home today."

"Sydney," I said.

"But the thing is, you have to go on, right? You can't worry about what you don't know. Chances are, your daughter's fine. Safe and sound. If you're lucky, she's taken along a boyfriend like I did. I know that might not be what you want to hear, but the fact is, if she's got a young man with her, already she's a hell of a lot safer. And don't even worry about the sex thing. Girls today, they're much savvier about that stuff. They know the score, they know everything about birth control. A hell of a lot more than we did in our day. Well, I was pretty knowledgeable, but most of them, they didn't have a clue."

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Fear the Worst 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
kren250 More than 1 year ago
Divorced car salesman Tim Blake is thrilled when his seventeen year old daughter Sydney moves in with him for the summer. Sydney has a seasonal job working at the front desk of a local motel, and seems to be the typical teen girl. The nightmare begins when Sydney suddenly disappears, and Tim starts to learn things about his daughter's life that don't make sense. I thought this book was a quick and entertaining read, but it wasn't anything that knocked my socks off. The writing is pretty good, but the plot a bit predictable; and your typical mystery/thriller characters abound. It would make a good beach or vacation read; something that's fast to get through and doesn't require much exertion on the reader's part. There are a few really exciting scenes, and enough interesting things going on to keep you reading until the end.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
This mediocre tale of a car salesman whose daughter goes missing contains a variety of plot twists and turns that seemed to have been chosen by a committee. They may keep the story going, but they don't always add to the excitement, nor do they always make much sense. There is a large cast of people, so we don't get to know anyone of them too well. But, it's not the worst story you could read, so if you like rambling plots where the outcome is in little doubt, you need not fear reading this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wasn't too sure about the book until the 3rd chapter. Just kept reading and finished it within 36 hours. Things just kept happening and I just had to know what was next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this story! My second book by Linwood Barclay and many more to follow:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author did a great job. This is the first book I have ever read by this author. Even from the very first page i was hooked. I wrote a review before... but if your looking for a good mystery/thriller novel. Picking this one will surely get your blood flowing.
James Ancona More than 1 year ago
This book was very well written. This is the first book Ive read by this author. I have to say it kept me interested the whole way through. He makes you feel as if you're actually there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had me at the edge of my seat, I had a hard time putting it down. The writing style was great. I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Very dramatic,left me guessing to the very end. If you are into suspense, you'll love this book. I'd never heard of Barclay before, but I oplan to read more of his books.
esltcher More than 1 year ago
Thought this was a fast moving interesting mystery with undertones of character darkness.
Sensitivemuse More than 1 year ago
The book starts off with Tim Blake, a normal average car salesman who finds out his daughter is missing. When he goes where she's currently employed to ask if they might have seen her, he finds out they haven't even heard of her. In turn, this opens up a huge can of worms as Tim is set off on a wild goose chase that's filled with more twists and turns I have ever seen in a book. I liked how the main protagonist is a simple car salesman. We don't get very "normal average every day" people as the ones who are caught up in this sort of dilemma. It's a nice refresher and gives you a break from other stories which always include either a detective, a member of the police, or even a member of the military. It gives the plot an overall realistic flavour to it. However wrong it is, a lot of teenagers and children are missing everyday and we don't usually see it from the parent's point of view. My heart went out for Tim. I don't know how it feel like to be a parent but sometimes on my evil juvenile days I used to make my parents worry a lot and they would probably feel like Tim did. There were times in the book where his acts of desperation in finding his daughter just makes your heart want to sink. He's not exactly a character you would like or dislike, but he's someone you would cheer for until the end. I don't have many criticisms for this book. I just advise if you are going to read this, pay very close attention. :) The book has plenty of twists and turns and throughout the book you find everybody has a dirty little secret and as you follow Tim you eventually figure them out. I actually liked that, as some of their secrets are related to the disappearance of his daughter. Some weren't but it was just interesting to know anyway. The ending was something I did not expect. I was already putting the blame on whoever was coming along but afterwards when it all sinks in it's rather shocking and almost..creepy. I just like it how it all started with one huge large difficult puzzle and the pieces just fit together nicely in the end. It's a great book if you're into twists and turns and unexpected finds.
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
I have to say right off that I really enjoyed "Fear the Worst", by Linwood Barclay. The book is very well written. The narrative flows very smoothly, the characters are alive and very believable. You can feel the hurt and anguish of the father, Tim Blake, who's teenage daughter, Sydney, suddenly and inexplicably comes up missing. Tim's determination and dedication to find his daughter, no matter the personal cost to himself, tug at your heartstrings. The book has plenty of action as Sydney's dad closes in on her trail, with the reluctant help of some of Syd's friends. If they ever make a movie of this thriller, the father should be played by an actor with the strength of character of a middle aged Clint Eastwood.
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ansin More than 1 year ago
Read his first book "The Accident",Then bought all the books he wrote..Have one waiting..was not disappointed with any..Great story lines in all his books..ansin
seldombites More than 1 year ago
This is a light read for when you don't want your brain to be too taxed. Not too obvious, but not unsolvable and not un-put-down-able.
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