Published by Crooked Lane Books on June 13th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Goodreads Synopsis: Anna Graves’s whole life has recently been turned upside down. A new mother, she’s just gone back to her job as a radio presenter and is busy navigating a new schedule of late night feeding and early morning wake ups while also dealing with her newly separated husband. Then the worst happens. While Anna is walking on the beach with her daughter, she’s attacked by a crazed teenager. Terrified, Anna reacts instinctively to protect her baby.
But her life falls apart when the schoolboy dies from his injuries. The police believe Anna’s story, until the autopsy results reveal something more sinister. A frenzied media attack sends Anna into a spiral of self-doubt. Her precarious mental state is further threatened when she receives a chilling message from someone claiming to be the “Ophelia Killer,” a serial killer who preyed on the town twenty years ago—and who abruptly stopped when Anna’s father committed suicide.
Is Anna as innocent as she claims? And is murder forgivable, if committed to save your child’s life? Internationally bestselling author Tracy Buchanan takes readers on an emotional roller coaster ride filled with heart-stopping secrets and hairpin turns in No Turning Back, her U.S. debut.
Tracy Buchanan’s No Turning Back is aptly named because once you get started reading this heart-pounding roller coaster ride of a novel, there’s no turning back and no putting this book down until you’ve made it through all the twists and turns that this story throws at you. If you like a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, this book is for you.
Anna Graves is a popular local radio host who is just returning to work after maternity leave. She is also going through a divorce and so has a lot on her plate living the single mom life. As if she didn’t have enough drama in her life, one day while strolling along the beach with her infant daughter, Joni, she is accosted by a teenage boy with a knife. With no one around to help her, Anna desperately searches for something to protect herself and her child with. She finds a comb with a long, pointed handle and points it at the boy to fend off his attacks. He slices her face with his knife but then loses his footing and falls on the handle of the comb Anna is holding. It punctures his neck and he ultimately dies from the wound. Anna is of course horrified by what has happened since she was only trying to protect herself and Joni and didn’t mean to harm the boy.
At first, the police believe Anna’s story and deem the boy’s death an act of self-defense. But when the autopsy results reveal that he was poisoned shortly before his death, questions start to arise and the police start to question whether this was a straight case of self-defense or not. Public reaction is also mixed with some hailing Anna as a heroic mother, while others proclaim her to be a murderer. The media doesn’t help matters either, as they try to sensationalize the story from every angle, first seeming like they are on Anna’s side but then turning on her and trying to dig up anything they can to tarnish her reputation. Then Anna starts receiving taunting email messages from someone claiming to be The Ophelia Killer, a serial killer from 20 years ago who was never caught. The Ophelia Killer targeted teenage boys who looked like the boy Anna killed and used the same poison that was in Anna’s victim’s system. When another teenage boy goes missing, the story takes on a whole new level of creepy suspense. Is the original killer back? Or is it a copycat? Or is it just some sicko playing mind games with Anna?
Anna Graves. I really liked Anna. I think being a mom myself, I found it very easy to put myself in her shoes while she was standing on that beach trying to do whatever it took to protect her infant daughter. I could also empathize with the challenges of being a new mom and trying to juggle that with a career. In all of these ways, she was a very relatable character. I also tend to root for the underdog in stories so when the media, the community, the police, her soon-to-be ex-husband, and even her so-called friends started turning on her and questioning her actions and her mental state, I found myself in her corner that much more.
The Suspense and the Plot Twists. Buchanan does a phenomenal job of weaving together an intricate mystery that will keep you guessing who the real killer is all the way to the end. Lots of dirty little secrets come to light throughout the course of the story, each of which seemed to lead either directly to Anna, much to her dismay, or else toward a suspect who could plausibly be The Ophelia Killer. I lost track of how many times I was sure I knew who was behind the murders only to end up being completely wrong.
The Portrayal of the Media. Even though I was not at all a fan of the media in this story, I thought Buchanan portrayed them in a very realistic manner, especially in terms of the power the media wields. With one positive or negative story, they can make or break a person’s reputation. And when tabloid style journalism gets in the mix, all bets are off as to how they’ll choose to cover a story. Any shocking headline that is guaranteed to get the public’s attention seems to be fair game. As we were given glimpses of some of the stories that were being written about Anna, all I could think of was a certain President running around yelling “Fake news! Fake news!”
The Big Question. What I really enjoyed about No Turning Back was that in addition to being a wildly entertaining mystery, it’s also a book that made me think. That big question that was out there from the early moments of the book – How far would you go to keep your children safe? Could you take a life? I bet it’s a question that stays on every reader’s mind, whether they have kids or not, long after they finish reading this story.
The Jaw Dropping Ending. I can’t say anything else about it without giving away the story, but just WOW! I didn’t see it coming at all and it blew my mind!
Overall, I loved the novel but I did still have a couple of issues with it. The main one was that I didn’t like how the police were portrayed. While it made Anna’s journey that much more of a roller coaster ride to have it seem like even the police were out to get her, I just couldn’t imagine a police force conducting itself like the one in this book did. They didn’t really seem to care much about evidence or about Anna’s safety when she was receiving threats from the dead boy’s family. They had little to no interest in finding evidence that would exonerate Anna. Instead, they seemed to look at everything only insofar as to see how they could use it to prove Anna was guilty.
The other aspect of the novel that bothered me was that some events just didn’t seem plausible, the biggest one being right at the beginning of the novel when the boy falls on Anna’s comb and gets fatally stabbed in the neck. What are the odds of that actually happening? I think it would have made for an even more compelling story than it already was to have Anna make a conscious choice to stab him in self-defense rather than having it be more like a freak accident.
If you like a good mystery that will keep you guessing up until the final pages, I’d highly recommend No Turning Back. With all of the twists and turns this plot has to offer, there’s never a dull moment!