Never Coming Home is a domestic thriller told from the perspective of the villain. Its anti-hero Lucas Forester hired someone to kill his multi-millionaire wife, so Lucas can get her money. The novel begins a month after Michelle was kidnapped, and the ransom drop was botched. Outwardly, Lucas plays the part of loving, desperately anxious husband to a T; inwardly, he continues his plans to get not just Michelle’s wealth, but her entire family’s. All seems well, until someone sends him a package in the mail that makes him realize someone may be on to his role in Michelle’s death.
The novel starts off a bit slow, but solid. McKinnon draws us gradually into Lucas’ story: his impoverished upbringing, his disabled father who requires expensive 24/7 care, and the plan that eventually led to Michelle’s murder. The external threat of someone finding out his secret begins as a trickle at first, a couple of notes that Lucas worries about but mostly just dismisses. But then the story picks up with the reappearance of someone dangerous from Lucas’ past, and the second half of the novel was a full-out thrill ride of a page turner that I zipped through within hours.
My one big snag with this novel is the ending, which was just… ugh. [I’ll keep this as vague as I can to avoid spoilers, but feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid the risk of any potential hints at all.] The identity of the letter writing mastermind was fairly easy to guess, if only because they were so deliberately off Lucas’ list of suspects, despite having clear motive. Their identity was a solid choice, but the big reveal itself, as well as the other revelations that came to light, just felt, well, almost cartoonish. I admit I didn’t see any of the other revelations coming, so the author did a good job in keeping those a surprise. I also think that, if the story had been framed differently, perhaps from a different character’s perspective, the big reveal might have even felt incredibly satisfying. But it just fell flat for me, even kinda cringe-worthy. And while the final scene delivered some degree of justice — and genuine kudos for the genuinely hilarious final line — it felt a bit too much for me. Mostly, I feel like the ending was supposed to evoke a sense of triumph, of evil getting their just desserts, yet I got no such satisfaction, and the glee with which these scenes were depicted just left a sour note for me.
Authors generally treat anti-heroes like Lucas in one of two ways: one is the Dexter route, where the author leans heavily into the character’s villainous nature, yet makes them so charismatic and brilliant that you can’t help but cheer them on even when it makes you uncomfortable to do so. And the other is the route McKinnon chooses, where she humanizes her protagonist and actively makes us sympathize with him. In Lucas’ case, beyond his sob story background, there’s also a very strong sense that he’s nowhere near as brilliant or competent as he thinks he is. He zeroes in on two or three obvious suspects for the letter-writing, yet fails to consider other, not quite obvious but still visible, potential points of danger. He’s smart enough to use burner phones and recognize warning signs, yet not quite smart enough to install security cameras. And when the big reveal happens, he fails to see the true extent of the danger even when the letter writer basically tells him so. As a murderer, Lucas is in way over his head almost from the very beginning, and despite all his crimes, by the big reveal, I just felt sorry for him.
Part of me likes that McKinnon takes this unusual approach to the domestic thriller genre — we rarely see the story play out from the perspective of a man who kills his wife. In many ways, I also like what she did with Lucas’ character, how she humanized a killer without leaning into the Dexter Morgan trope. But another part of me wishes certain things were handled differently: either the story ended differently, or Lucas seemed like a more competent combatant, or even that we got a more balanced and complex view into Michelle’s character. We get a very strong sense of why we should root for Lucas, but much less of an idea, beyond the obvious general morality of it all, why we should care for Michelle and for her murderer to be brought to justice. The story felt unbalanced, and while the ending felt realistic enough, it also felt over-the-top in its handling, and a bit of a sour note to end the story on.
TW: hint of animal cruelty, but it turns out to be a red herring (the dog is fine)
Thanks to Harper Collins Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.