#BookReview Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry @VintageBooks

Don't Turn AroundAbout the Book

Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

Format: Paperback (320 pages)     Publisher: Vintage
Publication date: 15th April 2021 Genre: Thriller, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

I don’t read thrillers all that often but when I do it’s because I’m looking for a palate cleanser from my usual diet of historical fiction and I’m pleased to say Don’t Turn Around fitted the bill perfectly. If you’ve been following the blog tour, you’ll have seen book bloggers sharing extracts from the book along with their reviews. Even if you haven’t, there’s still time to check out their posts (see poster below).

The author deploys all the weapons of the thriller writer – short chapters, compelling final sentences, multiple timelines and narrators, as well as red herrings galore. I developed several theories about what was going on and who was behind it, all of which ended up being dumped in the literary equivalent of a roadside garbage bin.

However, the plot also incorporates more serious topics such as women’s rights and the impact of social media. In the case of the latter, it’s bang up-to-date with its references to anonymous site 4chan. Misogyny and violence against women is a key issue addressed. As Rebecca observes, “Wasn’t living under the constant threat of danger just a part of being a woman in this world?” In fact, my one reservation about the book was whether its cast of unlikable male characters and the way events play out doesn’t in fact reinforce this notion.

I liked the way the author explored the dynamics of the relationship between the two women. Although only ten years apart in age, they start off believing they have little in common. Cait’s journalistic ambitions have come to nothing, seeing her working as a bartender and relying on tips to meet her rent bill. Whereas, from Cait’s point of view, Rebecca is someone whose privileged life has been ‘one long red carpet rolling out in front of her, ready to be stepped on’. Of course, first impressions can be deceptive.

Gradually, the barriers between the two women start to break down to the extent that Cait even wonders if she and Rebecca might have been friends in other circumstances. However, she quickly dismisses the idea, reminding herself that she’s there to do a job and nothing else. As it turns out, they’ll need to rely on each other’s ingenuity and courage more than they could ever have imagined.

The book paints an interesting picture of small town America with its roadside restaurants, motels and bars. The chapter headings listing the places the two women travel through (the majority of which I suspect few people have ever heard) acquire a sort of poetic quality: Clovis, Melrose, Yeso, Vaughn, Pastura, Taiban, Tolar. The enumeration of the miles left to travel to their destination acts like a countdown clock, increasing the tension but also giving the story a real-time feel. In another clever touch, as the story switches between their journey and recent events in the lives of the two women, the intervals reduce from months, to weeks, and finally to days until the timelines finally converge.

The two women have several tense and bruising encounters as they drive through Texas and New Mexico, a landscape described as ‘nothing but scrubland and the long flat ribbon of road and the vast black sky’. Oh, and there’s no phone signal either.

Don’t Turn Around is the kind of book I categorize as a trains, planes and automobiles read by which I mean it would be the ideal choice to pass the time on a long journey – although perhaps not if travelling as a passenger in a car on a lonely road! The book is clearly the work of a skilled writer who knows how to grab the attention of the reader – well, this one at least – and ensure it never wanders until the final page is turned.

My thanks to Graeme Williams for letting me know about the book and for organising my review copy.

In three words: Compelling, intense, suspenseful

Try something similar: Duel by Richard Matheson (or the 1971 TV film version starring Dennis Weaver and directed by one Steven Spielberg)

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Jess BarryAbout the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS. She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London. She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)

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