When a corpse appears, with confusing links to the murder of his parents long ago, Ethan begins to investigate, and “Never Turn Back” becomes a compulsive page turner with more hairpin turns than a road. of Mountain. To reveal a lot about the plot twists would be to reveal spoilers.
The novel is packed with an eclectic mix of characters drawn from multiple social, racial, and gender demographics, and even the peripheral characters are fully realized thanks to Swann’s subtle descriptive powers that transcend the boundaries of genre writing. For example, there’s Father Coleman Carter at Archer School, where Ethan teaches, “People who are afraid of him – and there’s more than one – don’t realize how Coleman’s behavior is.” an act. Man uses boast as a way to engage with the world because deep down he doubts both the world and himself and longs for the assurance that all will be well, which perhaps explains why to be why he is a priest. I have learned that such insurance is hard to find and harder to keep.
Both of Swann’s novels feature a dedicated college teacher at an elite prep school. It is a territory that the author knows well. He attended boarding school in Virginia and taught in private schools for 25 years, currently serving as chair of the English department at Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Atlanta. The fact that such rarefied and cloistered environments lend themselves to some type of secrecy has earned him comparisons with Donna Tartt. Also add postmillennial Kafka to the digital age. In Swann’s fiction, these well-meaning guys always have a bad luck with bureaucracy.
The classroom scenes are pleasant enough to make a reader nostalgic for a didactic Shakespeare, with their realistic student-teacher interactions, literary quotes, and golden Latin phrases. (There are also enough F-bombs for naturalism reasons.) “Never Go Back” however ventures beyond the school grounds. The crime trail leads to a mental institution, prison, gritty tavern, and body shop where shady deals are done, and even, oddly enough, a monastery in northern Georgia.
Swann approaches LGBTQ issues in an interesting way. The cisgender protagonist is somewhat naive – some might say ignorant – about another character’s orientation, but once the truth is revealed, he responds with sensitivity and understanding. A gay love match ultimately turns out to be the healthiest, most loving relationship in the book.
Readers will be supportive of Ethan, but the character who will distract them the most is brash, resourceful, and uncompromising Susannah. It’s that rare kind of woman who, with a flick of her wrist, can overpower a man handyman at a pool table by “stomping on his foot with her Doc Martens before letting go.” She becomes more and more likable as her biography is revealed; the double homicide was not his only tragedy. (Look for Susannah in an upcoming book by Swann.)
“The Shadow of the Lions” is a meditation on secrets; “Never Turn Back” is a study on trauma. Everyone is damaged in one way or another, and most of them except Ethan are able to add to the total amount of pain in the world. Towards the end, it looks like the cycle won’t stop. Erotic obsession, cyberbullying and suicide attempts come into play. Even the poor dog is in pain. Swann says he has studied mental illness, particularly psychopathy, to write in depth on the subject.
It is to his credit that the end of the book, which carefully links a multitude of subplots, manages to put some of the aberrant behavior into context. He doesn’t justify it or make excuses, just puts it in some kind of weary perspective of the world.
‘Never look back’
by Christophe Swann
Crooked Lane Books
288 pages, $ 26.99