Linwood Barclay’s latest novel Look Both Ways is a slight gear-change from his usual thriller, but is still packed full of the suspense we all know and love. Read below to discover what inspired this genius idea!
I grew up surrounded by car imagery.
Back in the 1950s and early ’60s, if you were to flip through the pages of Life or Look or the Saturday Evening Post and looked at the automobile ads, or if you picked up a brochure from your local Ford dealer, you might have noticed that all the pictures of these cars were illustrations, not photographs.
These beautiful, airbrushed renderings weren’t always one hundred percent accurate. These cars were longer and sleeker than the real ones. The wheelbases were extended. They sat lower to the ground than the actual cars did, appeared to have a wider stance. The chrome sparkled. The glass glistened.
My dad drew those cars.
Dad—his name was Everett—spent much of his life in the advertising world as a commercial artist. He wasn’t one of the execs knocking back scotches in fancy offices like those guys in Mad Men. He was in the trenches, hunched over his drafting table, airbrushing a fin, blending a reflected tree into the car’s graceful sheet metal, executing the outline of a perfectly round hubcap, freehand. (A sample of his work graces the title page of this book.)
I loved to watch him work, and once, when I was three and Dad had stepped away from his workstation (this was when he had a home studio), I got into his chair and, with a crayon, proceeded to improve upon a $5,000 Cadillac job. (I am lucky to be alive.)
Dad bought me loads of toy cars because he loved them as much as I did. Dinky Toys, Corgis, kits that I had to paint and assemble myself, slot car sets where we would engage in races, shoulder to shoulder, our hands gripping the controllers.
And yet, until I reached the age of fifteen, Dad never had a car as beautiful as anything he created on a piece of art board. But we had been strolling a dealership lot one day, and spotted a discounted 1970 Dodge Charger, not unlike the car the bad guys drove in the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. (Okay, it had a bench seat and a column shift, but it was still a Charger.)
“You should get that,” I said.
“Your mother would never go for it,” he said.
That was probably true. But he bought it, anyway. And in less than a year, that cool car would essentially become mine, although I would have given anything not to have had that happen the way it did. Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in seven months we lost him. My mother did not drive, so I was her chauffeur, and whenever I needed a car, I didn’t have to ask whether it was available.
So, a love of cars was bred into me. It was part of my DNA. I love gripping the wheel, hitting the gas as I come out of a curve, the roar of the engine as you go through the gears.
A car is an extension of who we are. It’s a reflection of our personality. When we get in the driver’s seat, there’s a kind of union under way. The car does not move without you and you do not move without the car. The magic doesn’t happen until you get in that seat, turn the key, and put your foot on the accelerator. (Okay, not all cars need keys these days, but at least you must push a button.)
Cars are thrilling. What do you remember first about the aforementioned Bullitt, or The French Connection, or Ronin? The chases. Is there a more nerve-wracking flick than Steven Spielberg’s Duel, which pits an everyman in his puny sedan against a deranged trucker?
Imagine those movies with self-driving vehicles.
Which brings me to Look Both Ways.
We are told that the autonomous, or self-driving, car is imminent, and when everyone has access to one, accidents will plummet. The cars will be safer because they will strictly follow the rules of the road and be better at anticipating and avoiding accidents.
What could go wrong?
Well, as many news reports have suggested, plenty. Putting one’s faith in the car’s abilities can lull a driver into false security. In models where a real live person is expected to take the wheel in a sudden, potentially dangerous event, they can’t respond in time. Some early prototypes have had difficulty identifying pedestrians. Others have been confused by shadows or a setting sun.
To be fair, it’s early days. There may come a time when every car on the road is self-driving, and if they’re all able to communicate with one another, crashes will be a thing of the past. And while that is inarguably a good thing, I view this future with dread. You know what a self-driving car is? It’s a bus, but smaller. It’s an Uber, without the driver who wants to tell you about the screenplay he’s working on.
It’s boring. It’s soulless. It is the death of fun.
However, it’s also a springboard to a great “what if.” Every book begins with a “what if” and here’s the one that prompted this book: What if a company wanted to conduct a grand experiment with their self-driving cars? What if they could persuade the residents of an isolated community to give up their conventional cars in exchange for self-driving ones, for a month? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate test of how well they perform?
But then, what if a virus infected the network? What if the cars all went nuts? Homicidal, in fact? What you’d have is a few hundred Christines on your hands.
The premise is very different from the type of thrillers you’ve probably come to expect from me, but it was too good an idea to put aside.
Maybe autonomous cars, one day, will be a wonderful thing.
But until they’re perfected, when you’re crossing the street, I’d advise you to look both ways.
Extracted from Look Both Ways by Linwood Barclay, which is available now in eBook. Want to gift it for Fathers’ Day? You can! Simply follow these instructions on how to buy Kindle Books for others. Hardback and audio editions out in November.