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Never Turn Back


Never Turn Back

I think every reader on at least an occasional basis experiences a touch of literary ennui when nothing catches or hooks them. They will step away from their must-read pile for a day or two before coming back to it and finding that the novel that wouldn’t sing or even hum to them is now tapping right along. Sometimes, though, one will pick up a book that suddenly seems superglued to their hands, and they won’t be separated from it until the last sentence has been read. NEVER TURN BACK is one of those books.

Christopher Swann’s sophomore effort is confidently sure-footed right out of the gate, perfectly paced and wonderfully plotted. It is told in the first-person present by Ethan Faulkner, a young English teacher at a private high school in the Atlanta area. Ethan has quite the backstory: A home invasion when he was on the cusp of adolescence left his parents dead and his younger sister, Susannah, and him injured. Flesh and bones heal, but the emotional scars still tug and pull, especially when it comes to Susannah.

"Swann has gifted us with a quiet bombshell.... NEVER TURN BACK is a perfect wake-up call if you are stuck in the reading doldrums."

Ethan and Susannah were taken in by their uncle, a mysterious but quietly powerful figure in the Atlanta area. He was not the touchy-feely type, so he could do little in the way of supporting his nephew and niece emotionally. The horrible event understandably aggravated Susannah’s pre-existing troubles. Since she has come of age, she has led a troubled life compared to Ethan’s more or less stable one, wandering in and out of contact with him.

Susannah makes a fateful reappearance in Atlanta as the book begins, which coincides with Ethan taking a few tentative steps toward a relationship with an extremely compelling but enigmatic woman. A series of events brings the trouble that took their parents’ lives back to Ethan’s doorstep. Meanwhile, his position at the school, where he is popular with both the students and the administration, is jeopardized. However, these same events provide Ethan with an opportunity to take a measure of revenge if he so desires. He has mixed feelings about it, but time is running out. He and Susannah may be in danger, and his hesitancy may result in the decision being made for him by an unexpected source.

Swann has gifted us with a quiet bombshell. His story never gets lost in itself, and the characters are all distinctive and memorable --- a definite plus for those of us who have reached a certain age, as it becomes all too easy to lose track of who has done what to whom. NEVER TURN BACK is a perfect wake-up call if you are stuck in the reading doldrums.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 9, 2020

Never Turn Back
by Christopher Swann