Bestseller Barclay's outstanding thriller, his fourth stand-alone after Fear the Worst, opens with what should be a happy family outing—a trip to an amusement park. Shortly after newspaper reporter David Harwood; his wife, Jan; and their four-year-old son, Ethan, arrive at Five Mountains in upper New York State, Ethan disappears. A frantic Jan goes to find security, while David soon locates Ethan nearby asleep in his stroller. But now Jan is missing. What's more, the park has no record of selling her a ticket, and she doesn't show up on any security video. Nor is she at home in Promise Falls, N.Y. While the police suspect David killed Jan and concocted the park abduction story, he uses his reporting skills to dig into his wife's past and learns he never really knew her. The tension mounts as Barclay skillfully shows how even the most innocent action can seem suspicious. The surprising twists and appealing characters rank this among the author's best. 5-city author tour. (Mar.)
Suspicion falls roundly on a small-town reporter when his wife disappears from a family outing to an amusement park. Jan Harwood had been acting strangely for some time before she disappeared, telling her husband David how much better off he and their son Ethan would be without her. He'd noticed bandages on her wrists, and she'd told him about an aborted suicide attempt at a nearby bridge. Although David assumed she was just going through a phase, when he received an anonymous e-mail from someone who wanted to tell him about some shady doings between a local politician and a for-profit prison operator, he figured he'd take her along when he went to the meet, even if only to keep an eye on her. The next day, after a scare at the amusement park when a bearded stranger briefly made off with Ethan, she was gone, disappearing somewhere between the main gate and the family car, to which she'd returned to fetch a forgotten backpack. Things start looking bad for David when the police notice that David's credit card had only been charged for two amusement-park tickets-one adult and one child-and when his wife is nowhere to be seen on the park's security cameras. When police realize that no one has seen her since the two of them drove to a service station in a wooded area to meet his source, David becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. David, meanwhile, does a little digging into his wife's past, and begins to suspect he never really knew her at all. Barclay's previous thrillers, especially Fear the Worst (2009), worked by being believable enough to force the reader to see things through the eyes of his Everyman protagonists, who suddenly find themselves thrust into a world of crime,lies and suspicion. But here, with a few exceptions, the characters are far too wooden to clinch the deal, and the writing is bland at best, occasionally dipping into the downright bad. Lame characters and groan-worthy prose make this book a slog.
From the Publisher
“The best thriller I’ve read in five years.”—Stephen King
“Outstanding . . . The tension mounts. . . . The surprising twists and appealing characters rank this among the author’s best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The writing is crisp; the twists are jolting and completely unexpected.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“Mr. Barclay can flawlessly assume the voice of a small-town American dad.”—The New York Times
“Plenty of surprises and twists.”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Read an Excerpt
Never Look Away teaser
Detective Duckworth and I headed north, but in under a mile he put on his blinker and turned down a narrow gravel road that went down, then up, winding all the time. The inside of Duckworth’s car smelled of french fries. The smell made me feel sick to my stomach.
Not far up ahead, several police cars and vans blocked our path.
“We’ll walk in from here,” Duckworth said, slowing and putting his car into park.
“Who saw this grave?” I asked. I’d felt my hands shaking a moment ago, and had grabbed the door handle with my right and tucked my left under my thigh, hoping Duckworth wouldn’t notice. I felt I needed to disguise how nervous I was, worried Duckworth would take that to mean I was guilty of something.
But wouldn’t any man, especially an innocent man whose wife was missing, be distraught after learning a body had been found?
“What the locals tell me,” Duckworth said, “is there’s a couple of cabins down at the end of this road, and a guy who lives in one of them spotted something suspicious at the side, went to check it out, realized what was buried there, and he called the police.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Couple of hours. Local cops secured the scene, then they contacted us. We’d already been in touch, putting them on alert about your wife.”
“I told you nothing happened with Jan when we were up here,” I said.
“You’ve made that very clear, Mr. Harwood.” He opened his door, then looked at me. “You can stay right here, if you’d like.”
“No,” I said. “If it’s Jan, I have to know.”
“Absolutely. Don’t think I don’t appreciate your assistance.”
We got out of the car and started up the road, the gravel crunching beneath our shoes. A uniformed officer coming from the direction of the crime scene approached.
“You Detective Duckworth?” he said.
Duckworth nodded and extended a hand. “Thanks for the quick heads up on this,” he said. The cop looked at me. Before I had a chance to introduce myself, Duckworth stepped in. “This is Mr. Harwood. He’s the one whose wife is missing.” The two of them exchanged a quick glance. I could only imagine what this cop had been told already.
“Mr. Harwood,” he said. “My name is Daltrey. I’m very sorry. This must be a very difficult time for you.”
“Is it my wife?” I asked. “I need to see.”
Duckworth reached over and lightly touched my arm. “I really don’t know that that’s a good idea.”
“Where’s the grave?” I asked.
Daltrey pointed. “Just beyond those cars, on the left side. We haven’t moved the body.”
Duckworth tightened his grip on me. “Let me go up there first. You wait here with Daltrey.”
“No,” I said, breathing in short gasps. “I have to -- ”
“You wait. If there’s a reason for you to come up, I’ll come back and get you.”
I looked him in the eye. I couldn’t get a read on him. I didn’t know whether he was trying to be compassionate here, or whether somehow I was being played.
“Okay,” I said.
As Duckworth went ahead Daltrey positioned himself in front of me, in case I decided to run after him. He smiled kindly. “Looks like it might rain.”
I walked back to Duckworth’s car, ambled around it a couple of times, always glancing back for him.
He was gone about five minutes, caught my eye, beckoned with his index finger. I ran over to him.
“If you’re up to it, I think it would help if you make an identification.”
“Oh God,” I said. I felt weak in the knees.
He gripped my arm. “I don’t know for certain that this is your wife, Mr. Harwood. But I think you need to be prepared for that fact.”
“It can’t be her,” I said. “There’s no reason for her to be up here…”
“Take a minute.”
I took a couple of breaths, swallowed, and said, “Show me.”
He led me between two police cars that had acted as a privacy shield. Once we got past them I looked to the left and where the opposite side of the ditch sloped up there was a five-foot ridge of earth. It was in full view of the road. Draped over the ridge was a pale, dirt-splotched white hand and part of an arm. Whoever that arm belonged to was on the other side of the dirt pile.
I stopped, and stared.
“Mr. Harwood?” Duckworth said.
I took another couple of breaths. “Okay,” I said.
“I can’t have you disturbing anything,” he said. “You can’t…touch her. Sometimes, people, when they’re overcome with grief…”
He led me up to the grave. When we were close enough that we could see beyond the ridge, Duckworth stopped me.
“Here we are,” Duckworth said. I could feel him watching me.
I looked at the dirt-smeared face of the dead woman lying in that grave and fell to my knees, then pitched forward, catching myself with my hands.
“Oh God,” I said. “Oh God.”
From the Hardcover edition.