Well, it’s been a while since I last read a Lee Child novel. So, when someone lent me a copy of “Never Go Back”, it went straight to the top of my ‘to read’ list.
A couple of days later, I read the whole thing in one single sleep-deprived night.
Ok, it isn’t Lee Child’s best novel, but it’s hardly his worst either. Or, to put it another way, it’s good enough that you’ll probably want to read the whole thing in one sitting.
As with all of Lee Child’s novels, “Never Go Back” follows Jack Reacher – an ex-military policeman who wanders around America and almost always seems to end up in the middle of some mystery or other.
In “Never Go Back”, not only does Reacher find himself formally accused of manslaughter (due to an old case he worked on during his military police days), but he has also been drafted/recalled back into the army in order to allow the new temporary commander of his old military police unit (Colonel Morgan) to charge him with the crime.
Plus, on top of all of this, the officer who should have been in charge of his old unit (Major Susan Turner) appears to be missing…..
I probably haven’t done the novel justice in this short summary, but it’s a lot more thrilling and dramatic than it sounds. Well, after the first hundred pages or so, at least….
It may be because Lee Child is a famous author and can get away with this kind of thing, but I’ve never seen a thriller novel start so slowly. Yes, you might not notice this if you haven’t read any of the other “Jack Reacher” novels, but it has the slowest beginning in any of the Lee Child novels that I’ve read.
In other words, the first quarter of the novel is more like a rather slow-paced legal thriller than an actual thriller novel. But, if you stick with it, then you will be rewarded by a fast-paced, action-packed and suspenseful story which never lets up until the very end. In fact, it’s possible that Lee Child deliberately made the first quarter of the novel so slow-paced in order to make the rest of the novel seem faster and more dramatic by comparison.
Don’t get me wrong, the first quarter of the novel isn’t boring or badly-written. It’s just very different in pacing and style to the first quarter of most of Lee Child’s other novels. If this was a novel by any other author, I probably wouldn’t even comment on this fact – but it’s, well, unusual for a Lee Child novel.
As for the characters, many of them are fairly well-written. Jack Reacher is still Jack Reacher (as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”), but there are also a few interesting supporting characters too.
Yes, this is one of those novels where Reacher has a companion and a couple of other people to help him out too. I’m not sure whether I prefer these stories to the stories where Reacher is pretty much on his own, but having a few supporting characters works fairly well in this novel.
However, most of the villains (apart from possibly one of them) in “Never Look Back” aren’t really as well-developed as I hoped they would be. I can understand this for the generic “henchmen” characters, but we never really get to learn that much about the main villains of the story.
Yes, it’s explained why the main villains have done what they’ve done, but they never really seem like they’re real, well-developed characters (unlike, say, the villains in “Die Trying”, “The Visitor” and “Without Fail”).
I also kind of have mixed feelings about the plot of “Never Look Back” too. Yes, there are a lot of thrilling set pieces, intriguing mysteries and plot twists – but the ending to the novel just seemed slightly contrived and anticlimactic in some ways. I can’t really describe the ending without giving away major plot spoilers, but I was expecting something a lot more shocking, innovative and dramatic. Even so, all the action scenes, plot twists and mysteries are still compelling enough to make this novel worth reading.
But, despite my criticisms, this is still a Lee Child novel. This is still a well-written and gripping thriller novel. This is still a novel which is almost impossible to put down after you’ve started reading it. It’s still absolutely crammed with action and suspense.
Yes, “Never Look Back” may not have the best beginning and ending ever written, but the part in between these two things is absolutely spectacular.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would probably get a four.