I had the pleasure of attending a virtual book launch for Christopher Swann’s latest book, “Never Turn Back.” When I read his debut novel, “Shadow of the Lions,” I enjoyed it so much, I sent copies to several friends. So, I was delighted to have the opportunity to hear him speak about his second book and his writing process.
I found “Never Turn Back” especially enjoyable for its Atlanta setting and classroom scenes. Ethan Faulkner, the protagonist, teaches English at a private school and resides in the Chastain Park area as the story opens. As a child, he lives in Sandy Springs outside the Perimeter until a home invasion turned deadly forces him and his sister to move to Grant Park. The novel moves back and forth between the present and the tragedy that shaped Ethan’s life.
The Amazon blurb describes it as a “Southern-set domestic thriller about family, vengeance and atonement.” It is that and more. It’s a story about the decisions we make — good and bad — decisions that seem to be inconsequential until . . . they’re not. How often do you recall actions you’ve taken and cringe? Even years later? Ethan and his sister, Susannah, have more than their usual share of cringe-worthy memories. The consequences and how they work through them form the foundation of the tale.
Is it intriguing? The answer to that is my husband spent almost an entire day on our screened porch engrossed in the book and subsequently asked me to get him the first one. The good news for Christopher Swann fans is that he’s already turned in the draft of a third book to his editor and has plans to write a sequel to “Never Turn Back.”
The saying goes, “Write what you know,” and Swann’s vivid classroom scenes are surely a product of his experience as an English teacher and department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. If you’ve ever taught or you have children in school or simply enjoy literature, I predict you’ll savor those parts of the book as much as the mystery at its core.
As a corporate escapee turned writer, I was eager to hear about his writing process. I had to laugh when he was asked whether the book sprang fully formed from his head like Athena from Zeus, and I was heartened to hear it didn’t. He explained he enjoys writing the characters and scenes but the challenge comes in making sure the story as a whole makes sense.
Similarly, as I’ve experienced and also heard other authors mention, his characters tend to take on lives of their own and can take a book in different directions. If I can trust my scribbled notes, I believe he said Susannah, Ethan’s sister, wound up with a larger role than originally intended. However it happened, planned or not, she’s integral to the plot.
“Never Turn Back,” provided hours of enjoyment at the Penn household. If you like thrillers with plenty of twists, I predict it will do the same for you.