Not to be confused with the recently reviewed novel of the same name by a different author, Never Go Back, by Marla Bradeen is a murder mystery set in the quiet little town of Las Vegas, Nevada. (It’s quiet if you don’t go into the casinos or don’t stay out after 7pm. Right?)
Alison Carter is a stay-at-home mom who recently decided to re-enter the work force. Instead of pushing a traditional desk job, she’s joined a small technology company. Small as in, just her and her boss, Ryan Lyman. Small as in, they only have one client so far who has purchased their gaming management system. And that contract isn’t going well because Ryan seems reluctant to deliver.
While conferencing with her boss online, Alison becomes the sole witness to his sudden and inexplicable murder. She dials 911 and then races to his house. Shortly thereafter, she’s stunned to find out that the assigned detectives consider her a suspect. Maybe the only suspect. Physical evidence doesn’t support her story, which makes no sense to her. Then the detectives ask about her gun.
Backed into a corner, with no one to help, not even her own husband, Alison decides to go it alone, stealing away to find out the truth while the police only investigate her. Unfortunately, she has no idea what she’s doing, and now she’s made matters worse.
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for detective novels, so keep that in mind. I read a lot of different genres, but I always come back to the whodunit. As long as someone did something bad and someone is trying to figure it out, I’ll probably like it. There’s a pact between writer and reader in the mystery category. The writer will keep the reader in the dark, doling just enough to get their brain thinking they can figure it out, but keeping just enough hidden to make the reader turn the pages. The reader’s part? They keep turning the pages.
I think Marla Bradeen keeps up her end of the bargain here. By throwing the crime in right at the beginning, she sweeps you up in events before you can even think “Hey, wait, who are these people?” Then she doles out pieces at a time over the course of the fluid narrative.
When I say fluid narrative, I mean that, to me, everything flowed naturally. I didn’t get the idea that there was a master plot she was holding on to and forcing characters into. It felt like the story moved organically from one scene to another based on character choices. The story alternates between Alison and the lead detective, as each goes about their business of solving the case. It actually works well because it provides a bridge of suspense between each chapter without stringing you out for long. And, of course, there’s a lot of dialogue, which I live for.
On the other hand, the narrative left some room for additional character building. I wasn’t sure the stakes were high enough for Alison to make some of the choices she did early on. Her husband turns on her rather quickly and I couldn’t help but think maybe there should have been an underlying problem there already, or some other obstacle or character flaw that would guide some of her decisions. This would have lent more drama to her part. The mystery was satisfying, but it could have been more so if there were deeper character goals to resolve. It’s harder to do than it sounds, but it’s there nonetheless.
The same with the lead detective. He has issues with his new, wet-behind-the-ears partner. I would have liked to have seen the tensions externalized in how the characters interacted with each other (again, creates more drama). But most of the troubles in that relationship existed in internal monologues.
That said, several minor characters shined in their limited page-time. The victim’s sort-of grieving wife and the girl who goes by the name Candy in particular felt alive as soon as they hit the page. Maybe it was my own imagination adding things, but I really liked those characters and the way they were written.
So, there’s a little push and pull here and, of course, it’s all subjective.
Never Go Back is an enjoyable, light-reading mystery that could have used a little more drama, but the organic storytelling and interesting mystery kept me turning the pages.