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Author: Linwood Barclay

Title: Never Look Away

Publisher: Orion

Hardback: 415 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7528-9743-1

Price: £18.99

Publication Date: 02/09/2010

Never look away. If there’s a maxim that applies to both reader and characters in Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, then this is certainly it. Stop paying attention, even for a moment, and you’re apt to miss something. For the book, much like Barclay’s previous outings, is awash with twists and labyrinthine sub-plots. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the roller-coasters in the Prologue form a perfect motif for what the reader can expect from the pages that follow.

The story revolves around the Harwood family – David, Jan and four-year-old Ethan – whose quiet existence is torn asunder one fateful day whilst visiting the local amusement park. In a moment of inattention, Ethan’s stroller disappears and David and Jan separate in a panic as they search for their son. Discovering Ethan safe and asleep, blissfully unaware of his apparent kidnapping, David is initially relieved until he realises that Jan appears to have vanished. Only a few pages into the story and already Barclay has thrown in the first twist, leading the reader to believe one story is developing before confounding their expectations.

Terrified that Jan – who has been depressed and suicidal – may be about to take her life, David contacts the police. But the investigation soon reveals that there is no record of Jan entering the park, and that no-one else can corroborate David’s claims that his wife was having mental problems. As the evidence against him begins to pile up, a seed of doubt takes root in the reader’s mind and I found myself re-reading and questioning all that David had previously narrated. Has he been lying to us? Is he lying to the police?

In the creation of such a fallible and un-heroic lead [David is the very antithesis of the tough, brawny thriller-hero stereotype], Barclay has made a bold choice, but one which ultimately becomes a major strength of the novel. A small-town journalist who has never realised his potential, David is diligent, unassuming and possesses a sense of humour that tends towards the sarcastic [he does at times seem very British!]. Very much an everyman figure, we, the readers, can see ourselves in him and thus feel empathy for his situation and his ineffectual attempts to investigate Jan’s disappearance.

I must admit that I did guess the major twist of the novel quite early on. However, this can be attributed in large part to luck and the fact that I had  recently watched a film whose grand conceit is very similar to Never Look Away’s biggest revelation [the film shall remain nameless to avoid spoiling the book for anyone]. That being said, there are so many red herrings, and Barclay is so adept at pulling the rug from under the reader, that I spent most of the novel doubting my prediction!

From its opening pages onwards, Never Look Away moves at breakneck pace towards its tumultuous conclusion. The very final twist aside [it was the only one that felt slightly unconvincing and throwaway], this is another rip-roaring thriller from an author undoubtedly at the top of his game. Filled with its tangled web of duplicity, corruption, murder and greed, this is an unpredictable and unputdownable read.

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