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Never Far Away


Never Far Away

When I pick up a new book, I typically like to take in the cover, check out the blurbs, and read the plot summary on the inside flap. For some reason, I chose not to do any of that with Michael Koryta’s latest novel, NEVER FAR AWAY, and it ended up being the right call. The story kicks off with an episode from the past that will not make total sense for a while until the present-day narrative starts filling in the puzzle pieces. This made the anticipation for the secrets that were to be revealed that much more satisfying as they worked their way into the plot.

NEVER FAR AWAY begins with a section titled “The End.” It is not the end of the story, but the end of the life that once belonged to Nina Jackson. She and two unnamed men spend time setting up her vehicle to make it look like she has been murdered and bled out in the driver’s seat. No body is left behind. Nina ceased to exist at that moment in Florida a decade ago. She moved far away to Maine, where she became Leah Trenton, a wilderness guide. This was all done so that a very bad man would not harm her husband or her two kids. However, Koryta and his readers understand that you cannot run away from your past forever; eventually it catches up with you.

"A less effective author may have written himself into a corner...and wrapped up the book with an unbelievable plot twist or ending. That is not the case with Michael Koryta, who is a superb plotter."

Leah’s husband, Doug, had instructed his children to dial a certain phone number in the event that anything bad ever happened to him. When he is killed in a one-car accident, Hailey and Nick call Aunt Leah, a woman they have never met. Leah hears about their father’s death and assures them that everything will be okay and she will come for them. She tells her boyfriend, Ed, that she needs to pick up her niece and nephew who have now been “orphaned” and bring them back home to Maine.

The children are reluctant to leave Kentucky but have no say in the matter. They are under the impression that Leah is their mother’s sister, still believing that their mother was killed 10 years earlier. The bad man who wanted Leah dead is the head of the Lowery Group, and I will leave that backstory for readers to discover themselves. Let’s just say that he might not be convinced of her demise and will send two of his most brutal hitmen, Pollard and Bleak, to confirm his suspicions.

Meanwhile, Leah reaches out to the only person she can think of who might be able to help her: Doc Lambkin, who had been involved in the ruse surrounding her faked death. He then calls upon Dax Blackwell, a young man who we never really know is good or bad, to protect her. Pollard and Bleak break out of prison and begin leaving a bloody path behind them as they travel from Kentucky to Maine in search of Leah and her children. They have no intentions of letting any of them survive their eventual meeting.

Leah decides to pick a place to hunker down with Ed and the kids. Either they wait out the search by the bad men or prepare to take a final stand against them. This is to take place at a location 200 miles from her home in the middle of the Allagash Wilderness in a spot only reachable by seaplane. Of course, Hailey had shared this trip with her only friend at her new school, a local boy named Matt. When Matt breaks into Leah’s house after they have left --- on a mission for Hailey that involves searching through her mysterious aunt’s belongings for answers --- he is met there by Pollard and Bleak, who immediately take him hostage and use him as leverage in the inevitable showdown with Leah. Fearing for his life, Matt spills the beans, and he and the hitmen are soon on their way to the Allagash Mountains.

Dax Blackwell, by far my favorite character here, uses “incentive” to force another local tour guide to fly him to the same area so he can complete his assignment. Koryta saves the best dialogue for Dax, and his scenes with the seaplane pilot and later with Hailey and Nick are worth the price of admission. We now have tension surrounding the triangular meeting of Leah with her children, Pollard and Bleak, and Dax.

A less effective author may have written himself into a corner at this point and wrapped up the book with an unbelievable plot twist or ending. That is not the case with Michael Koryta, who is a superb plotter. NEVER FAR AWAY has a satisfying conclusion that allows Leah to live up to her promise that mothers are never far away.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 19, 2021

Never Far Away
by Michael Koryta

  • Publication Date: June 28, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316535907
  • ISBN-13: 9780316535908