A decade ago, Nina Morgan made an unimaginable choice to keep her family safe: Leave them.
Nina was a witness, not a criminal. But the acts she knew about and the powerful man behind them put not just her but her husband and their two toddlers in harm’s way.
So she disappeared from their Florida home and re-created herself in Maine as wilderness guide Leah Trenton. She’s haunted by her loss, but she has constructed a new life, even found a new love. She stays in secret touch with her husband, Doug, and their kids, now 13 and 11, think they have an eccentric Aunt Leah out in the woods somewhere.
Then Leah gets a panicked call from her daughter, Hailey. Doug had taught Hailey that she must contact Leah immediately if anything ever happened to him, and now he has died.
Can Leah reclaim her children without triggering the attention of the man who wants her dead? That’s the question that sets in motion Never Far Away, the latest hard-charging thriller from Michael Koryta.
A former St. Petersburg resident and a veteran of Eckerd College’s Writers in Paradise program, Koryta has published 16 novels. He’s also worked as a journalist and a private investigator.
His 2014 thriller, Those Who Wish Me Dead, has been made into a film starring Angelina Jolie, Tyler Perry and Nicholas Hoult; it will be released in May. So Cold the River, his 2010 supernatural thriller, is coming to the screen also, with production just wrapped but no release date yet.
Never Far Away is a stand-alone novel, but it has threads that connect it to Those Who Wish Me Dead, If She Wakes and other Koryta books.
Like many crime fiction authors, Koryta has written a couple of series with main characters — Lincoln Perry and Markus Novak — who are private investigators. But with his last several novels, and this one, he’s latched onto a different kind of recurring character: a hired killer.
Or rather a family of them.
Those Who Wish Me Dead featured Jack Blackwell and his brother Patrick, a terrifyingly skilled pair of assassins. The brothers make a harrowing cameo in Never Far Away, but Jack’s son, Dax, plays a major and complex role. He’s taken up the family business, living by his father’s advice: “You must have a curious mind and an empty heart.”
J. Corson Lowery is the man of “rare and terrible power and reach” who wants Nina dead, the founder of a private security company that one senator called “Blackwater on steroids.” Lowery is not the type to get his own hands dirty, of course, so he’s set a couple of his employees on Leah’s trail.
Even before she’s sure that she’s being hunted, Leah is coping with her children’s fear and anger. They don’t know her real identity; all they know is that, hard on the heels of their father’s sudden death, weird Aunt Leah has spirited them away from their comfortable home in Kentucky and taken them to a small town in Maine where they know no one and even the Wi-Fi is iffy.
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Leah’s sweet-natured son, Nick, starts to come around, but Hailey bears more than a physical resemblance to her mother: She’s as independent and strong-willed as Leah is. That will seriously complicate Leah’s efforts to keep her kids safe.
Dax Blackwell is not working for Lowery; he has motives of his own when he tracks down Leah and her children. Boyishly handsome and mordantly funny, he’s an ace at everything from hacking into the family’s electronic devices to surviving in the wilderness.
That last skill comes in handy as Leah flees her pursuers, relying on her boyfriend, a pilot and hunting guide, to take her and the kids to Maine’s remote Allagash Wilderness, the sort of place where nature is stunningly beautiful and utterly indifferent to human beings.
Koryta is adept at bringing such harshly lovely places to life, then pitting his characters against their perils — in Those Who Wish Me Dead, a massive forest fire dominates the latter part of the book.
In Never Far Away, the wild world’s threats combine with the human ones in a layered, twisting plot that Koryta steers skillfully. It’s an electric, fast-paced thriller, maybe Koryta’s best one yet. But it’s also an effective novel about families — how they shape us, how they can sometimes save us, or destroy us.
Never Far Away
By Michael Koryta
Little, Brown, 384 pages, $28