Sam Barclay is a former army rifleman from Glasgow who Strike hires as a new subcontractor in the beginning of Lethal White.1 Strike first meets Barclay while investigating a drugs case while still in the SIB. A known marijuana user, Barclay had been caught with a “kilo brick of prime Moroccan hash” in his bag. Strike believed Barclay’s story of being a scapegoat because he had not only noticed, but began documenting, corruption among his fellow officers. Strike was impressed with his methodic record keeping and initiative, an impression that probably led to Strike seeking Barclay out to work for the agency.2
Barclay is married and has recently had a baby, which has caused him to slow down his marijuana use, now only vaping occasionally and using the internet to purchase it.3 Having found it difficult to secure work after leaving the army, when we meet him, Barclay has mostly been painting houses for his brother-in-law’s company.4 He seems quickly interested in the idea of investigative work and happily accepts Strike’s offer of employment.5
Both Robin and Strike like Barclay, and Strike comments that he does “good work.” 6 Barclay becomes a key player in the Chiswell investigation (Lethal White) by going undercover and infiltrating Jimmy Knight’s CORE activist group.7 He keeps Strike and Robin informed on Jimmy and Flick’s movements and later joins them when they literally dig for clues.8
Barclay is a little over thirty with prematurely greying hair. He’s described as “heavy browed, with large round blue eyes and a strong jaw.” 9
In Troubled Blood, Barclay continues to be the agency’s best subcontractor.10 He’s a reliable investigator, and both Strike and Robin trust him. Barclay is able to go to Strike with concerns and feedback about other employees11, and he often provides support and backup to Robin while Strike is away.
“Of course, as Robin was well aware, she and Barclay had once gone digging for a body together, and such things create a bond.”12
In The Ink Black Heart, Sam continues to be one of the detective agency’s subcontractors, alongside new recruits Michelle “Midge” Greenstreet and Dev Shah. Andy Hutchins leaves the agency early on in the book, making Sam the subcontractor who’s been at the agency the longest.
In a team meeting, on the topic of the agency’s broadcaster client, we learn that Barclay has a difficult relationship with his mother-in-law, who, prior to them getting married, kept telling her daughter that Barclay is a “worthless squaddie.” Despite this, Barclay painted her kitchen, which she almost thanked him for. “Magical moment.” (Ch 10)
In chapter 21 of The Ink Black Heart, Strike meets Barclay after their surveillance targets Seb Montgomery and Wally Cardew go to the Red Lion and Sun in Highgate. On meeting, Barclay says to Strike: “Sherlock Bigcock, I presume?” Strike replies, “And you must be Tartan Twelve-Inch.” They drink a non-alcoholic beer each at the pub while both listening in on Wally, Seb, Nils and Tim’s conversation. On departing, Barclay tells Strike he doesn’t look much like his photo. Strike replies: “In fairness, it was of my arse.”
In chapter 93 of The Ink Black Heart, Strike and Robin decide to send Barclay to Glasgow (“His neck of the woods, Glasgow”) to meet Nicole Crystal, who they believe to be the person behind the Drek’s Game username Paperwhite. When Strike and Robin FaceTime Nicole and her parents, Barclay is seen in the background drinking a cup of tea.
In chapter 107 of The Ink Black Heart, Robin tells Strike that when Stuart Nutley called up to say he’d be happy to come back and work for the agency now The Halvening terrorist group had been rounded up, Sam Barclay takes the phone off out of Pat’s hands and tells Nutley to “get tae fuck, ye cowardly shitstain.”
1-5: Lethal White, Chapter 1
6: Lethal White, Chapter 18
7: Lethal White, Chapter 11
8: Lethal White, Chapter 65
9: Lethal White, Chapter 1
10: Troubled Blood, Chapter 3
11: Troubled Blood, Chapter 17
12: Troubled Blood, Chapter 15