The Twenty-Three

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Berkley Books, 2016 - Fiction - 453 pages
12 Reviews
From New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Linwood Barclay comes the jaw-dropping finale of the Promise Falls Trilogy.

Everything has been leading to this.

It's the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, May 23rd, and the small town of Promise Falls, New York, has found itself in the midst of a full-blown catastrophe. Hundreds of people are going to the hospital with similar flu-like symptoms--and dozens have died. Investigators quickly zero in on the water supply. But the question for many, including private investigator Cal Weaver, remains: Who would benefit from a mass poisoning of this town?

Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth is faced with another problem. A college student has been murdered, and he's seen the killer's handiwork before--in the unsolved homicides of two other women in town. Suddenly, all the strange things that have happened in the last month start to add up...

Bloody mannequins found in car "23" of an abandoned Ferris wheel...a fiery, out-of-control bus with "23" on the back, that same number on the hoodie of a man accused of assault...

The motive for harming the people of Promise Falls points to the number 23--and working out why will bring Duckworth closer to death than he's ever been before...

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - musichick52 - LibraryThing

I had read the first volume of this trilogy but not the second. I had no trouble jumping right into this third and concluding installment. This is a very real scenario. The town's water supply is ... Read full review

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User Review  - CheryleFisher - LibraryThing


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About the author (2016)

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright 2016 Linwood Barclay


Patricia Henderson, forty-one, divorced, employed at the Weston Street Branch of the Promise Falls Public Library system as a computer librarian, was, on that Saturday morning of the long holiday weekend in May, among the first to die.

She was scheduled to work that day. Patricia was annoyed the library board chose to keep all of the town''s libraries open. They were slated to close on the Sunday, and on the Monday, Memorial Day. So, if you''re going to close Sunday and Monday, why not close for the Saturday, too, and give everyone at the library the weekend off?

But no.

Not that Patricia had anywhere in particular to go.

But still. It seemed ridiculous to her. She knew, given that it was a long weekend, there''d be very few people coming into the library. Wasn''t this town supposed to be in the midst of a financial crisis? Why keep the place open? Sure, there was a bit of a rush on Friday as some customers, particularly those who had cottages or other weekend places, took out books to keep them occupied through to Tuesday. The rest of the weekend was guaranteed to be quiet.

Patricia was to be at the library by nine, when it opened, but that really meant she needed to be there by eight forty-five a.m. That would give her time to boot up all the computers, which were shut down every night at closing to save on electricity, even though the amount of power the branch''s thirty computers drew overnight was negligible. The library board, however, was on a "green" kick, which meant not only conserving electricity, but making sure recycling stations were set up throughout the library, and signs pinned to the bulletin boards to discourage the use of bottled water. One of the library board members saw the bottled water industry, and the bins of plastic bottles it created, as one of the great evils of the modern world, and didn''t want them in any of the Promise Falls branches. "Provide paper cups that can be filled at the facility''s water fountains," she said. Which now meant that the recycling stations were overflowing with paper cups instead of water bottles.

And guess who was pissed about that? What''s-his-name, that Finley guy who used to be mayor and now ran a water bottling company. Patricia had met him the first--and, she hoped, last--time just the other evening at the Constellation Drive-in. She''d taken her niece Kaylie and her little friend Alicia for the drive-in''s final night. Kaylie''s mom--Patricia''s sister, Val--had lent her their minivan, since Patricia''s Hyundai was too cramped for such an excursion. God, what a mistake that turned out to be. Not only did the screen come crashing down, scaring the little girls half to death, but then Finley showed up, trying to get his picture taken giving comfort to the wounded.

Politics, Patricia thought. How she hated politics and everything about it.

And thinking of politics, Patricia had found herself staring at the ceiling at four in the morning, worried about next week''s public meeting on "Internet filtering." The debate had been going on for years and never seemed settled. Should the library put filters on computers used by patrons that would restrict access to certain Web sites? The idea was to keep youngsters from accessing pornography, but it was a continuing quagmire. The filters were often ineffective, blocking material that was not adult oriented, and allowing material that was. And aside from that, there were freedom-of-speech and freedom-to-read issues.

Patricia knew the meeting would, as these kinds of meetings always did, devolve into a shouting match between ultraconservatives who saw gay subtext in Teletubbies and didn''t want computers in the library to begin with, and ultra-left-wingers who believed if a kindergartner wanted to read Portnoy''s Complaint, so be it.

At ten minutes after five, when she knew she wasn''t going to get back to sleep, she threw back the covers and decided to move forward with her day.

She walked into the bathroom, flicked on the light, and studied her face in the mirror.

"Ick," she said, rubbing her cheeks with the tips of her fingers. "ABH."

That was the mantra from Charlene, her personal trainer. Always Be Hydrating. Which meant drinking at least seven full glasses of water a day.

Patricia reached for the glass next to the sink, turned on the tap to let the water run until it was cold, filled the glass, and drank it down in one long gulp. She reached into the shower, turned on the taps, held her hand under the spray until it was hot enough, pulled the long white T-shirt she slept in over her head, and stepped in.

She stayed in there until she could sense the hot water starting to run out. Shampooed and lathered up first, then stood under the water, feeling it rain across her face.

Dried off.


Felt--and this was kind of weird--itchy all over.

Did her hair and makeup.

By the time she was in her apartment kitchen, it was six thirty. Still plenty of time to kill before driving to the library, a ten-minute commute. Or, if she decided to ride her bike, about twenty-five minutes.

Patricia opened the cupboard, took out a small metal tray with more than a dozen bottles of pills and multivitamins. She opened the lids on four, tapped out a calcium tablet, a low-dose aspirin, a vitamin D, and a multivitamin, which, while containing vitamin D, did not, she believed, have enough.

She tossed them all into her mouth at once and washed them down with a small glass of water from the kitchen tap. Moved her upper body all around awkwardly, as though her blouse were made of wool.

Patricia opened the refrigerator and stared. Did she want an egg? Hard-boiled? Fried? It seemed like a lot of work. She closed the door and went back to the cupboard and brought down a box of Special K.

"Whoa," she said.

It was like a wave washing over. Light-headedness. Like she''d been standing outside in a high wind and nearly gotten blown over.

She put both hands on the edge of the counter to steady herself. Let it pass, she told herself. It''s probably nothing. Up too early.

There, she seemed to be okay. She brought down a small bowl, started to pour some cereal into it.


Blinked again.

She could see the "K" on the cereal box clearly enough, but "Special" was fuzzy around the edges. Which was pretty strange, because it was not exactly a tiny font. This was not newspaper type. The letters in "Special" were a good inch tall.

Patricia squinted.

"Special," she said.

She closed her eyes, shook her head, thinking that would set things straight. But when she opened her eyes, she was dizzy.

"What the hell?" she said.

I need to sit down.

She left the cereal where it was and made her way to the table, pulled out the chair. Was the room spinning? Just a little?

She hadn''t had the "whirlies" in a very long time. She''d gotten drunk more than a few times over the years with her ex, Stanley. But even then, she''d never had enough to drink that the room spun. She had to go back to her days as a student at Thackeray for a memory like that.

But Patricia hadn''t been drinking. And what she was feeling now wasn''t the same as what she''d felt back then.

For one thing, her heart was starting to race.

She placed a hand on her chest, just about the swell of her breasts, to see if she could feel what she already knew she was feeling.

Tha-thump. Tha-thump. Tha-tha-thump.

Her heart wasn''t just picking up the pace. It was doing so in an irregular fashion.

Patricia moved her hand from her chest to her forehead. Her skin was cold and clammy.

She wondered whether she could be having a heart attack. But she wasn''t old enough for one of those, was she? And she was in good shape. She worked out. She often rode her bike to work. She had a personal trainer, for God''s sake.

The pills.

Patricia figured she must have taken the wrong pills. But was there anything in that pill container that could do something like this to her?


She stood, felt the floor move beneath her as though Promise Falls were undergoing an earthquake, which was not the sort of thing that happened often in upstate New York.

Maybe, she thought, I should just get my ass to Promise Falls General.

Gill Pickens, already in the kitchen, standing at the island, reading the New York Times on his laptop while he sipped on his third cup of coffee, was not overly surprised when his daughter, Marla, appeared with his ten-month-old grandson, Matthew, in her arms.

"He wouldn''t stop fussing," Marla said. "So I decided to get up and give him something to eat. Oh, thank God, you''ve already made coffee."

Gill winced. "I just killed off the first pot. I''ll make some more."

"That''s okay. I can--"

"No, let me. You take care of Matthew."

"You''re up early," she said to her father as she got Matthew strapped into his high chair.

"Couldn''t sleep," he said.


Gill Pickens shrugged. "Jesus, Marla, it''s only been a little over two weeks. I didn''t sleep all that well before, anyway. You telling me you''ve been sleeping okay?"

"Sometimes," Marla said. "They gave me something."

Right. She''d been on a few things to help ease the shock of her mother''s death earlier that month, and learning that the baby she''d thought she''d lost at birth was actually alive.


But even if her prescriptions had allowed her to sleep better than her father some nights, there was still a cloud hanging over the house that showed no signs of moving off soon. Gill had not

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