Linwood Barclay is a successful novelist after having started out in the newspaper business and thriving there for a number of years as a respected columnist. His latest thriller, Never Look Away, features a newspaper reporter struggling to locate his missing wife as his life unravels around him. The novel has plenty of surprises and twists, but doesn’t quite hook you from beginning to end.
The novel is told from the perspective of a reporter from a small town called Promise Falls named David Harwood. Harwood is aggressively pursuing a story of corruption and greed centered on a proposed privatized correction facility that is looking at Promise Falls for a build site. As Harwood investigates the politicians and contractors involved his once stable home life seems to be suddenly falling apart as well. His loving wife has being showing signs of depression and erratic behavior, and Harwood is more and more worried each day.
Trying to help his wife and maintaining his professional stance on the privatized prison becomes more and more challenging as he is receiving pushback from his editors on the story. Things become even harder for Harwood when his wife disappears, and he fears she is dead or kidnapped. As Harwood doggedly pursues his wife’s disappearance, his research on the prison comes back to haunt him and the world seems to be stacked against him from all sides.
Never Look Away is labeled as a thriller and, like all stories of this type, all is never what it seems to be, and there are twists at every corner. Barclay is obviously an experienced writer and many of the scenarios are very well staged, but at times certain concepts arrive too fast or don’t have enough relevance to warrant the amount of exposition they are given.
Characters are hit and miss in this story; Harwood is a capable lead and is truly driven to find out the truth. His wife Jan is designed to be the most complex character in the story, but I found it hard to empathize with her and she was quite unlikable. A character you dislike can work very well if the scenario and story steers you the right way; in this case I just didn’t like reading her portions of the story as much as the other sections. The other characters such as the persistent detective Duckworth and Harwood's parents where well portrayed if fairly vanilla.
I noticed during my read that there was quite a bit of focus on the decaying state of newspapers; knowing Barclay's journalistic history, I imagine it was quite autobiographical. The issue with this exposition is that while it does impact the corruption angle of the story it does not hold your attention. The first half of the novel moves at a very slow pace, and very little is revealed making it a slow read at the start. Once the truth starts to unravel the pace picks up greatly and the book becomes much more of a page turner until the end. Tense situations, interesting characters, and a satisfying conclusion make up for the uneven start and scattered storylines.
Never Look Away is a good read if you start the book with some patience. It starts slowly and you wonder if all the side story arcs will have any payoff. Once the story begins to pick up, most of the plot threads all resolve in a satisfying way. In the end Never Look Away is not an exceptional thriller, but it is a capable one and worth reading for the payoff in the second half.