4 out of 5 stars to No Turning Back, a thriller and suspense novel released on June 15, 2017 by Tracy Buchanan. Many thanks to the author and to the publisher, Crooked Lane (thanks, Sarah!) for suggesting this book and sending it to me. I enjoyed the read and am excited to draft this review.
Why This Book
I love thriller and suspense novels. I’ve been very active on Goodreads and NetGalley for the last 4 months. Suddenly, the publisher reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in reading an advanced copy of the book. I read the description, which sounded fantastic, and I quickly said “Yes, please. And keep ’em coming!”
Plot, Characters & Setting
Anna, a young woman in her late 20s, has been a stay-at-home mom for the last six months six giving birth to her daughter Joni. Anna and her husband Guy are in the middle of a divorce and she’s staying at a separate cottage on the beach near their hometown in England. After returning to work as a radio show host where she provides advice and talks about current events, Anna realizes things are starting to change around her more quickly than she can adapt to. Her mother has been quite distant since Anna’s father committed suicide more than a decade earlier. Her brother Leo has grown more arrogant and difficult. Anna really only has some friends and her grandmother to look out for her. As she’s walking on the beach with Joni in a carriage one evening, a 15-year-old boy runs at her with a knife, appearing to want to kill her. Anna defends herself and Joni, accidentally killing the teenager.
Given it’s a small town, news travels fast. She’s quickly revealed as the woman on the beach who killed the young kid. Some people applaud her for protecting herself from a supposed drug addict. Others claim she is a murderess. The victim’s family claim their son was a good boy and Anna was just being vicious. Soon after, the Ophelia Killer, who murdered 5 or 6 boys nearly 20 years earlier, sends Anna an email, claiming (s)he’s back and is upset that Anna killed the boy who escaped from the killer’s clutches. Anna’s father had been investigating the killer before committing suicide, and it brings up difficult memories for her to accept. The killer is now after Anna, who took away his/her latest victim.
Over the course of a month, Anna befriends Jamie, the young boy’s brother. She’s unsure if he wants to harm her because she killed his brother, or protect her from the killer. Tensions escalate. More boys go missing. The cops suspect Anna or the boy’s family of being involved, or even being the Ophelia Killer. As evidence begins to pile up against Anna, her husband takes their daughter away, leaving Anna alone and frightened. But that’s exactly what the killer wants, and as Anna begins to unravel, she starts putting the puzzle together and figures out that someone close to her or her family is behind everything. Anna figures out how to stand up for herself, turning to her mother, grandmother, brother, husband and friends, but realizes in the end, someone has betrayed her. Now where does she turn?
Approach & Style
I read a physical copy of the book over 3 days, and it was 275 pages long. The story is told in the third person and generally follows Anna’s perspective. There are 6 or 7 small chapters, noted in italics, as conversations between the killer and his/her partner, but there are no dates, so readers don’t know if this is from the Ophelia Killer in the past, the same killer in the current time or a new copy-cat.
Chapters are about 10 to 12 pages long, easy to finish a few within an hour. The voice is consistent and straightforward. There is a lot of dialogue to keep the action going. It jumps a few days at a time in order to move the plot along, which sometimes creates a few areas of concern / confusion as to what happened during those periods. Nothing too uncomfortable.
Anna is drawn very well. For the most part, you see her as the victim. Every so often, she says or does things where you wonder if perhaps there is a little bit of darkness to her. She’s likable, but she’s done a few things of concerns in the past. Her job plays an important role in the story, and we learn just enough to keep us focused without feeling burdened by too many details.
Other characters are believable. Her grandmother is a strong ally with a little bit of history and drama of her own. Anna’s mother is a recluse and often seems like perhaps she should have been institutionalized after her husband’s suicide, given some of her behavior and treatment of her children. But this works to an advantage in the story, as it provides more suspense and eerie moments throughout the novel.
The story of the Ophelia Killer, when it finally comes together, is quite well-crafted. I believe the events. I understand why the killer wanted to kill. It makes sense why things happened 20 years ago and why they happened again now. And the connection between the young boys and the people involved in the crime is quite complex and intriguing.
Anna spends a little too much time talking to her infant daughter. It certainly helps create the bond and shows the love Anna has for someone else. But it was a tad repetitive and directionless in parts of the plot. It provided some angst during the custody negotiations with her husband, but some of that time could have been used with other characters to amp up the drama surrounding the mystery identify of the killer(s).
I’m not sure the secondary characters were used as much as they should have been in order to provide a more clear picture of what happened to everyone in the past. I understand it needs to be kept vague to throw suspicion on several different people and across different angles, but at times, it felt like too much was missing in order to feel connected to them. Not enough to worry me, but had this been a little tighter, the book would have felt even stronger.
As I don’t want to give away any spoilers, the relationships between Anna and her family members cannot truly be discussed in detail here. There’s a giant cloud over some events that happened in the past, which is important to the current plot. It adds to the suspense and mystery, but when everything came to light, I sort of felt a little displeased with how many discrepancies there were in people’s view points. After 20 years, I think some of the pieces would have come out much sooner. You’ll know what I mean when you read the book, but if I say much more, it’ll start to cross into the spoiler zone. For this reason, I hesitated between a 3 and 4 rating; however, it did keep me interested and the final outcome changed a few times in the matter of a couple of chapters, not easy to do under most circumstances.
Author & Other Similar Books
It’s a bit like Lisa Jewell’s “I Found You” or Michele Campbell’s “It’s Always the Husband,” in that there are events from 20 years ago which have a direct impact on what is happening today, but it is also different in that this is a serial killer. The title “No Turning Back” is very important to the story for many of the characters.
I haven’t read anything else by the author, but based on this book, I would definitely read another of her books. I’m thinking of giving “My Sister’s Secret” a chance.
Questions & Final Thoughts
I enjoyed the book. It contains a good plot, strong characters and lots of mystery. It’s not crazy earth-shattering with the reveal, but it definitely makes you think about how well you really know someone. People do the strangest things, and this book capitalizes on the “what if” scenario by showing all the challenges, fears and ideas that pain and murder bring out in someone. What would make you kill someone else? What’s the line of defense between an accident and fate? Where does revenge seem appropriate? It’s a good mystery and page-turner without being an intense roller-coaster ride. You can put it down, but you won’t want to let it go for more than a day before you feel drawn back to it… so when you take this one on, plan a 3-day read. You’ll want some time in between to give some consideration to all the suspects. And if you do figure it out, you won’t figure out why on your own… so there’s still a lot to look forward to.
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