Crooked Lane Books
US Publication – October 6,2020
Linwood Barclay meets Michael Farris Smith in this Southern-set domestic thriller about family, vengeance, and atonement from critically acclaimed Southern mystery novelist Christopher Swann.
The bonds of family never truly let go.
In fact, its grip only tightens the further you try to run: crushing and crippling.
Ethan Faulkner is a precocious child with a brilliant but troublesome sister, a war vet for a father and a weary mother trying to manage their family. One night, a young woman rings their doorbell, desperate to hide from two men who are pursuing her when one of the two barges in after her. The struggle leaves both of Ethan’s parents dead.
Years later, Ethan has a successful teaching career and a budding relationship with a coworker, Marisa. But he hasn’t quite followed through on his promise to dying father–take care of his sister. Susannah is not an easy person to keep tabs on, is a handful even when the tabs are kept, and quite frankly, Ethan wants her to suffer for preventing him from getting to dad before he died all those years ago.
It was a long time ago and Ethan tries to leave all of it behind him. But it seems to be the only thing Marisa is interested in discussing. When Ethan attempts to break it off, Marisa’s reaction threatens to shatter the life that Ethan has carefully constructed. Before long, news of a shocking murder breaks with evidence pointing to Ethan as the prime suspect, leaving him no choice but to dig up the painful memories of the past in order to find the truth of the present.
Lyrically conveyed with emotion and nuance, Never Turn Back is a powerful story about family, vengeance, and how some actions echo through the years with irreparable consequences.
Ethan lost her parents when he was just a child. His younger sister Susannah and Ethan both carry physical and emotional scars. Ethan teaches at a school he loves, rents a small home in a quiet neighborhood, and has the best roommate, his dog Wilson. When he attends a conference, he meets and sleeps with Marisa, not realizing this one decision will change his life.
Ethan is surprised when Marisa applies for a job at his school, but he likes her and thinks he might finally be able to move forward from the memories of his painful past. Until she seems to know more about what happened to his parents than she should, and she starts acting, shall we say, odd. His decision to walk away from her doesn’t sit well with Marisa. Soon, his life is a mess, his job is on the line, his sister’s fragile mental state is under attack, and even his oldest friend Frankie might not escape unharmed. The only person who can save Ethan is Ethan, as he digs into the past, trying to understand what is going on.
So what did I love about Never Turn Back, Ethan! He lived through such a traumatic event, and yet, he managed to make a life for himself. Granted, his relationship with his sister was problematic, and he relives the night of his parents’ deaths, but he is trying to come to terms with the past. Everything spirals out of control once Marisa enters the picture, and yes, I did love to hate this character. All I could think about was leave Ethan alone and don’t even look at Wilson!
There was only one twist that surprised me, but to me, this was more of a mystery than a thriller. Fast-paced with a great main character whose life has more layers than an onion. My first read by Christopher Swann and I enjoyed his writing style.
I received a DRC from Crooked Lane Books through Edelweiss +.