A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Imagine, if you will, an unlikely collaboration between Katie Fforde and Lee Child: a novel in which a garden designer with a fabulous figure and two gold medals from the Chelsea Flower Show teams up with a security consultant with a murky past and a nicely ripped torso in order to search for a missing child in the midst some of Italy’s most beautiful scenery and a rapidly rising body count.
Welcome to the wonderful hybrid world of romantic thrillers.
It’s a completely new sub-genre to me, and one I’d never even heard of before, so sheltered has my literary life been – so the opening lines of Never Coming Home caught me completely unawares:
He wasn’t meant to be there.
Not on that road, at that time, on that day – but the job in Atlanta had fallen apart, the client was screaming and someone had to sort out the mess.
Sometimes owning the company sucked.
Once he’d cleaned the brown stuff off the fan – and the walls and the floor – any sensible man would have taken the next plane out.
Except Devlin hated to fly.
Neat, bitten off and punchy, it’s not really the sort of opening you expect from the winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 2012 Joan Hessayon New Writers Award – especially if you’re a bit of a lazy thinker, like me – but ‘romantic fiction’ has come a very long way in a very short time, and having done a bit of research, I’ve discovered Never Coming Home is one of an army of novels kicking at the walls of the genre and screaming to be let out.
So, is it actually any good? As a matter of fact, yes it is.
The plot is straight out of thriller territory: Kaz Elmore believes her daughter Jamie was killed in a car accident in the United States. Security consultant Devlin believes the little girl died in his arms, and he seeks out Kaz in London to tell her that her child had not been in pain and had, at least, not died alone. It doesn’t take them long to work out, however, that the child who died in Devlin’s arms was not the child in the photographs in the living room …
The storyline positively hurtles along, the characters – even the minor ones – are well delineated and differentiated and the plot twists and turns like the roads around Lake Garda where Kaz and Devlin’s search for the truth about what happened to Jamie eventually takes them. True, it requires a major and willing suspension of disbelief to swallow some of the plot developments, but the same is true of both romances and thrillers anyway, so it’s part of the territory. It’s not for the faint-hearted, either – a couple of the characters meet a truly blood-curdling end, but their fate is not lingered over gratuitously and it serves a purpose within the story – in this case, to emphasize the depth and breadth of the lunacy our hero and heroine are surrounded by.
Interestingly, and slightly unexpectedly given the gender of the writer, I found Devlin a more fully rounded character than Kaz, and the ‘thriller’ element more engaging than the rapidly blossoming relationship between them. His journey from world-weary ex-spook to re-entry into the human race was both convincing and believable. It’s not that Kaz’s character is badly drawn – far from it – it’s just that she doesn’t really go anywhere, compared to Devlin.
Never Coming Home is an extraordinarily accomplished debut novel with that old-fashioned virtue of being well-written into the bargain, and if you – like me – have never dipped a toe in the waters of ‘romantic thrillers’ before, this would be an excellent place to start.
Evonne Wareham is a name to watch.
Choc Lit. 2012. ISBN: 978-1-906931-70-4. 316pp.