Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Suspense

A Noise Downstairs

by (author) Linwood Barclay

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Aug 2019
Suspense, Thrillers, Crime
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2018
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2018
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2019
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


This #1 National Bestseller and Globe and Mail Best Book of 2018 is a nail-biting psychological thriller from the master of the shocking twist. Lock the doors and keep the lights on, A Noise Downstairs will keep you awake all night.

Paul Davis is hearing some very strange noises in the night. He hears the clickety-click of a manual typewriter--as if someone is vigorously tapping the keys. The eerie sounds began soon after his wife, Charlotte, bought him a classic antique Underwood. But only Paul can hear the noise coming from downstairs; Charlotte doesn't hear anything unusual.

     Is Paul losing his mind? Maybe. Or is something really there? Eight months ago, he stumbled upon Connecticut's infamous "Apology Killer"--a psychopath who forced his victims to typewrite personal apologies to him before he cut their throats--disposing of two mutilated bodies on Milford's Post Road. Most shocking of all, the killer was his colleague, someone he thought he knew. Paul's been seeing a therapist for months to recover from the nearly fatal encounter, but his nerves and short-term memory have suffered since the traumatic event.

     There's only one way to learn if the noises are real or a figment of his hyper-imagination. One night, Paul rolls a sheet of paper into the machine. The next morning, when he checks the page, there is a chilling message:

     "We typed our apologies like he asked but he killed us anyway."

     As he desperately searches to find a rational explanation for the note and the noises, Paul slowly begins to consider the unthinkable: The message is authentic, and the women butchered by his colleague are reaching out to him from beyond the grave.

About the author

Linwood Barclay is a former columnist for the Toronto Star. He is the #1 internationally bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels, including The Accident, Never Look Away, Fear the Worst, Too Close to Home, and No Time for Goodbye. Multiple titles have been optioned for film.

Linwood Barclay's profile page

Excerpt: A Noise Downstairs (by (author) Linwood Barclay)


Driving along the Post Road late that early October night, Paul Davis was pretty sure the car driving erratically in front of him belonged to his colleague Kenneth Hoffman. The ancient, dark blue Volvo station wagon was a fixture around West Haven College, a cliché on wheels of what a stereotypical professor drove.
It was just after eleven, and Paul wondered whether Kenneth—always Kenneth, never Ken—knew his left taillight was cracked, white light bleeding through the red plastic lens. Hadn’t he mentioned something the other day, about someone backing into him in the faculty parking lot and not leaving a note under the windshield wiper?
A busted taillight was the kind of thing that undoubtedly would annoy Kenneth. The car’s lack of back-end symmetry, the automotive equivalent of an unbalanced equation, would definitely irk Kenneth, a math and physics professor.

The way the Volvo was straying toward the center line, then jerking suddenly back into its own lane, worried Paul that something might be wrong with Kenneth. Was he nodding off at the wheel, then waking up to find himself headed for the opposite shoulder? Was he coming home from someplace where he’d had too much to drink?

If Paul were a cop, he’d hit the lights, whoop the siren, pull him over.

But Paul was not a cop, and Kenneth was not some random motorist. He was a colleague. No, more than that. Kenneth was a friend. A mentor. Paul didn’t have a set of lights atop his car, or a siren. But maybe he could, somehow, pull Kenneth over. Get his attention. Get him to stop long enough for Paul to make sure he was fit to drive. And if he wasn’t, give him a lift home.

It was the least Paul could do. Even if Kenneth wasn’t the close friend he once was.

When Paul first arrived at West Haven, Kenneth had taken an almost fatherly interest in him. They’d discovered, at a faculty meet and greet, that they had a shared, and not particularly cerebral, interest.They loved 1950s science fiction movies. Forbidden Planet, Destination Moon, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, they agreed, was nothing short of a masterpiece. Once they’d bonded over the geekiest of subjects, Kenneth offered Paul a West Haven crash course.

The politics of academia would come over time, but what a new guy really needed to know was how to get a good parking spot. Who was the person to connect with in payroll if they screwed up your monthly deposit? What day did you avoid the dining hall? (Tuesday, as it turned out. Liver.)

Paul came to realize, over the coming years, he was something of an exception for Kenneth. The man was more likely to offer his orientation services to new female hires, and from what Paul heard, it was more intensive.

There were a lot of sides to Kenneth, and Paul still wasn’t sure he knew all of them.

But whatever his misgivings about Kenneth, they weren’t enoughto let the man drive his station wagon into the ditch and kill himself. And it would be just himself. As far as Paul could see, there was no one in the passenger seat next to Kenneth. 

The car had traveled nearly a mile now without drifting into the other lane, so maybe, Paul thought, Kenneth had things under control. But there was an element of distraction to the man’s driving. He’d be doing the speed limit, then the brake lights would flash—including the busted one—and the car would slow. But then, it would pick up speed. A quarter mile later, it would slow again. Kenneth appeared to be making frequent glances to the right, as though hunting for a house number.

It was an odd area to be looking for one. There were no houses. This stretch of the Post Road was almost entirely commercial.

What was Kenneth up to, exactly?

Not that driving around Milford an hour before midnight had to mean someone was up to something. After all, Paul was out on the road, too, and if he’d gone straight home after attending a student theatrical production at West Haven he’d be there by now. But here he was, driving aimlessly, thinking.

About Charlotte.

He’d invited her to come along. Although Paul was not involved in the production, several of his students were, and he felt obliged to be supportive. Charlotte, a real estate agent, begged off. She had a house to show that evening. And frankly, waiting while a prospective buyer checked the number of bedrooms held the promise of more excitement than waiting for Godot.

Even if his wife hadn’t had to work, Paul would have been surprised if she’d joined him. Lately, they’d been more like roommates who shared a space rather than partners who shared a life. Charlotte was distant, preoccupied. It’s just work, she’d say, when he tried to figure out what might be troubling her. Could it be Josh, he wondered? Did she resent it when his son came for the weekend? No, that couldn’t be it. She liked Josh, had gone out of her way to make him feel welcome and—


Kenneth had his blinker on.

He steered the Volvo wagon into an industrial park that ran at right angles to the main road. A long row of businesses, every one of them no doubt closed for the last five hours or more. 

If Kenneth was impaired, or sleepy, he might still have enough sense to get off the road and sleep it off. Maybe he was going to use his phone. Call a taxi. Either way, Paul was thinking it was less urgent for him to intervene.

Still, Paul slowed and pulled over to the side of the road just beyond where Kenneth had turned in. The Volvo drove around to the back of the building, brake lights flashing. It stopped a few feet from a Dumpster.

Why go around the back? Paul wondered. What was Kenneth up to? He killed his headlights, turned off the engine, and watched.

In Paul’s overactive imagination, the words drug deal came up in lights. But there was nothing in Kenneth’s character to suggest such a thing.

And, in fact, Kenneth didn’t appear to be meeting anyone.There was no other car, no suspicious person materializing out of the darkness. Kenneth got out, the dome light coming on inside. He slammed the door shut, circled around the back until he was at the front passenger door, and opened it. Kenneth bent over to pick up something. 

Paul could not make out what it was. Dark—although everything looked pretty dark—and about the size of a computer printer, but irregularly shaped. Heavy, judging by the way Kenneth leaned back slightly for balance as he carried it the few steps over to the Dumpster. He raised the item over the lip and dropped it in.

“What the hell?” Paul said under his breath.

Kenneth closed the passenger-side door, went back around to the driver’s side, and got in behind the wheel.

Paul slunk down in his seat as the Volvo turned around and came back out onto the road. Kenneth drove right past him and continued in the same direction. Paul watched the Volvo’s taillights recede into the distance.

He turned and looked to the Dumpster, torn between checking to see what Kenneth had tossed into it, and continuing to follow his friend. When he’d first spotted Kenneth, Paul had been worried about him. Now, add curious.

Whatever was in that Dumpster would, in all likelihood, still be there in a few hours.

Paul keyed the ignition, turned on his lights, and threw the car back into drive.

The Volvo was heading north out of Milford. Beyond the houses and grocery stores and countless other industrial parks and downwinding country roads canopied by towering trees. At one point, they passed a police car parked on the shoulder, but they were both cruising along under the limit.
Paul began to wonder whether Kenneth had any real destination in mind. The Volvo’s brake lights would flash as he neared a turnoff, but then the car would speed up until the next one. Kenneth, again, appeared to be looking for something.

Suddenly, it appeared Kenneth had found it.

The car pulled well off the pavement. The lights died. Paul, about a tenth of a mile back, could see no reason why Kenneth had stopped there. There was no driveway, no nearby home that Paul could make out.

Paul briefly considered driving right on by, but then thought, Fuck this cloak-and-daggershit. I need to see if he’s okay.
So Paul hit the blinker and edged his car onto the shoulder, coming to a stop behind the Volvo wagon just as Kenneth was getting out. His door was open, the car’s interior bathed in weak light.

Kenneth froze. He had the look of an inmate heading for the wall, caught in the guard tower spotlight.

Paul quickly powered down his window and stuck his head out.

“Kenneth! It’s me!”

Kenneth squinted.

“It’s Paul! Paul Davis!”

It took a second for Kenneth to process that. Once he had, he walked briskly toward Paul’s car, using his hand as a visor to shield his eyes from Paul’s headlights. As Paul started to get out of the car, leaving the engine and headlights on, Kenneth shouted, “Jesus, Paul, what are you doing here?”

Paul didn’t like the sound of his voice. Agitated, on edge. He met Kenneth halfway between the two cars.

“I was pretty sure that was your car. Thought you might be having some trouble.”

No need to mention he’d been following him for miles.

“I’m fine, no problem,” Kenneth said, clipping his words. He twitched oddly, as though he wanted to look back at his car but was forcing himself not to.

“Were you following me?” he asked.

“Not—no, not really,” Paul said.

Kenneth saw something in the hesitation. “How long?”


“How long were you following me?”

“I really wasn’t—”

Paul stopped. Something in the back of the Volvo had caught his eye. Between the headlights of his car, and the Volvo’s dome light, it was possible to see what looked like mounds of clear plastic sheeting bunched up above the bottom of the tailgate window.

“It’s nothing,” Kenneth said quickly.

“I didn’t ask,” Paul said, taking a step closer to the Volvo.

“Paul, get in your car and go home. I’m fine. Really.”

Paul only then noticed the dark smudges on Kenneth’s hands, splotches of something on his shirt and jeans.

“Jesus, are you hurt?”

“I’m okay.”

“That looks like blood.”

When Paul moved toward the Volvo, Kenneth grabbed for his arm, but Paul shook him off. Paul was a good fifteen years younger than Kenneth, and regular matches in the college’s squash courts had kept him in reasonably good shape.

Paul got to the tailgate and looked through the glass.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” he said, suddenly cupping his hand over his mouth. Paul thought he might be sick.

Kenneth, standing behind him, said, “Let . . . let me explain.”

Paul took a step back, looked at Kenneth wide-eyed.“How . . . who is . . . who are they?”

Kenneth struggled for words. “Paul—”

“Open it,” Paul said.


“Open it!” he said, pointing to the tailgate.

Kenneth moved in front of him and reached for the tailgate latch. Another interior light came on, affording an even better look at the two bodies running lengthwise, both wrapped in that plastic, heads to the tailgate, feet up against the back of the front seats. The rear seats had been folded down to accommodate them, as if they were sheets of plywood from Home Depot.

While their facial features were heavily distorted by the opaque wrapping, and the blood, it was clear enough that they were both female.

Adults. Two women. Paul stared, stunned, his mouth open. His earlier feeling that he would be sick had been displaced by shock.

“I was looking for a place,” Kenneth said calmly.

“A what?”

“I hadn’t found a good spot yet. I’d been thinking in those woods there, before, well, before you came along.”

Paul noticed, at that point, the shovel next to the body of the woman on the left.

“I’m going to turn off the car,” Kenneth said. “It’s not good for the environment.” 

Paul suspected Kenneth would hop in and make a run for it. With the tailgate open, if he floored it, the bodies might slide right out onto the shoulder. But Kenneth was true to his word. He leaned into the car, turned the key to the off position. The engine died.

Paul wondered who the two women could be. He felt numb, that this could not be happening.

A name came into his head. He didn’t know why, exactly, but it did.


Kenneth rejoined him at the back of the car. Did the man seem calmer? Was it relief at being caught? Paul gave him another look, but his eyes were drawn back to the bodies.

Who are they?” Paul said, his voice shaking. “Tell me who theyare.” He couldn’t look at them any longer, and turned away.

“I’m sorry about this,” Kenneth said.

Paul turned. “You’re sorry about—”

He saw the shovel Kenneth wielded, club-like, for no more than a tenth of a second before it connected with his skull.

Then everything went black.

Editorial Reviews

#1 National Bestseller
International Bestseller
Globe and Mail Best Book of 2018

"Vintage Barclay—an utterly compelling read with a twist you won't see coming. I loved it!" —Shari Lapena, internationally bestselling author of A Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House

"Linwood Barclay's novels—as intelligent as Michael Connelly's, as compelling as Harlan Coben's—never fail to astonish. A Noise Downstairs, his best work yet, is a cobra of a story: smooth, slippery, unnerving . . . and likely to strike when you least expect it. I devoured this book." —A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window 
"You won't put this one down." —The Globe and Mail

"Barclay has written 18 novels, none as infernally creepy as his latest book." —Toronto Star

"In A Noise Downstairs, [Barclay] creates the last word in unreliable narrators, in the process launching readers into 350 pages of unease and doubt. . . . Once again, Barclay has given his skills a good push, and while he's at it, gives readers one, too." —The London Free Press

"[A Noise Downstairs] echoes a classic movie from the 1960s. . . . Proving that Linwood Barclay is a master of manipulation, he pulls a genuinely un­expected twist that throws everything out the window. This thriller then kicks into high gear as it becomes a race for answers and justice. . . . Predictable becomes unpredictable in this compelling book that echoes the best of Harlan Coben." —The Associated Press

"[A]rtfully crafted. . . . Don't turn your back on any of these guys." —The New York Times Book Review 

"A creepy and compelling standalone. . . . Barclay expertly weaves together the various plot strands to reach a wholly unexpected conclusion." —The Guardian (UK)

"Cunning. . . . Twist-packed." —Sunday Times (UK)

"[Barclay] does a masterful job of layering on the mysteries until we're almost frantically turning the pages, impatient to find out what the hell is going on. A beautifully executed thriller." —Booklist, starred review

"Prepared to be blindsided by an ending you didn't see coming. Barclay's nerve-wracking tale will have readers scared to close their eyes at night." —Library Journal
"[A] fast-paced psychological thriller. . . . Harlan Coben fans will find much to like." —Publishers Weekly

"[A] twisty psychological tale. . . . A satisfying and clever novel. The large cast and the story's many moving parts perfectly set the reader up for the final climactic twist." —Mystery Scene

"Barclay’s latest thrillers mixes a whole bunch of red herrings and left-field twists into one satisfying summer read." —Readers Digest

"Barclay cranks up the suspense, putting a tight cast of characters and promising plot twists into play." —

"A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay is the summer thriller read for the year." —The Florida Times-Union

"A Noise Downstairs will astound, confound and thrill you. You'll need to read it with your wits about you and you'll want to sleep with your eyes open afterwards. A masterful novel." —Gilly Macmillan, author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl
"One of the world's finest thriller writers on the top of his game. A Noise Downstairs is a blinder—his best yet" —Peter James, internationally bestselling author of the Roy Grace series

Other titles by Linwood Barclay