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Review: Never Look Away, by Linwood Barclay

One of the first things that happens is that four-year-old Ethan Harwood’s mother looks away just long enough to get something out of her shoe and when she looks back, he’s gone. They’re at an amusement park filled with people and Ethan’s stroller is nowhere in sight. David, his dad, comes back from buying an ice-cream cone and both parents start the frantic search for their child, which doesn’t take long.
When David spots the stroller, he notices a bearded man running away and assumes he’s the one who took Ethan. But there’s no way to catch the abductor and David is happy enough to take Ethan back to where he left his wife. But his wife is not there and no one can find her, or any evidence that she was ever in the park. Not the park staff; not the police. She’s vanished.
Barclay is a master of the serpentine plot. This starts off as a simple missing persons story but gradually snakes and slithers its way through any number of dark corners. What becomes increasingly clear is that David looks really good to the police as a man who very probably murdered his wife.
According to what he tells the police, his wife has been troubled and moody and possibly suicidal, information that no one else can corroborate. The police suspect he’s killed her and hopes to convince everyone she killed herself.
While the police get closer to arresting him, David searches for answers as to where she is and, more importantly, who she actually is. Jan, if that is in fact her real name, has never shared much about her past. David manages to track down her parents, only to find that they are not her real parents. Other leads turn out much the same. Jan Richler Harwood is a will-o-the-wisp who seems to have become somebody’s wife and mother only to decide that whatever it was she was doing before she married is what she wants to do now. Unless, of course, she really is dead, as the police assume.
Barclay, a former newspaper columnist, is an excellent juggler, keeping enough plot lines in the air at all times to make his novel a real page turner.

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