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'Never Coming Home' by Hannah Mary McKinnon - Book Review

Written from the culprit's perspective, 'Never Coming Home' is a mystery that engages, intrigues, and, at times, provides the reader with a comedic storyline.
Photo courtesy of Hannah Mary
Photo courtesy of Hannah Mary

Oakville's bestselling author Hannah Mary McKinnon of You Will Remember Me, Her Secret Son and Sister Dear has just released her latest thriller Never Coming Home. Released on May 24 by Harlequin's imprint Mira, Never Coming Home became an instant national bestseller

“Having a fourth bestselling Canadian novel feels incredible,” Hannah Mary said. “It’s truly wonderful.”

Hannah Mary has already championed the storytelling space with many of her previous works. She is active in the writer's community hosting her own twice-weekly show 'First Chapter Fun' with award-winning crime author Hank Phillippi Ryan on Facebook and Instagram.

Hannah Mary's new novel stands out in many ways.

"This book is entirely written from the bad guy's perspective," said Hannah Mary explaining the new direction she took with Never Coming Home.

"In works such as You Will Remember Me there were chapters of the book where I wrote from the antagonist's point of view, but this story is told by the murderer. Essentially, Lucas Forester hires a hitman on the dark web to kill his very rich but exceedingly annoying wife. A month after she goes missing, Lucas receives a cryptic photograph with a note attached from an anonymous sender who claims to know what Lucas has done. And now the game is afoot."

Hannah Mary publishes bestselling novel: Sister Dear | Hannah Mary McKinnon
Hannah Mary publishes bestselling novel: Sister Dear | Hannah Mary McKinnon

Hannah Mary explores dark themes, and this novel is most definitely a thriller, which is indicative of her prowess as a literary crime writer.

That said, the protagonist is quite comical.

"He's the funniest character I’ve written, and that’s because I wrote this story exclusively during the pandemic. It was the middle of 2020 after my mom had passed away. I couldn't get to Switzerland to see her because of Covid, and I needed a place to go where I could safely wreak havoc but also have fun."

"I needed something to make me laugh, and Lucas was that something."

While the story's protagonist is funny, the thriller is still dark and suspenseful. 

Unlike other thrillers where you don't know who committed the crime, in Hannah Mary's book, the reader is fully aware from chapter one that Lucas is the culprit.

You get an insight into how Lucas sees the world and how he justifies that it is perfectly reasonable for him to commit his crimes.

Lucas is a very layered character:

  • He cares about this dog.
  • He loves his father, who had a stroke several years ago (and is deeply upset about his mother-in-law dying of cancer).

"It can be difficult to spend an entire book in the mind of a psychopath, which is why Lucas is multi-faceted, and I gave him a sense of humour where he says and thinks things most of us would never admit to," Hannah shares.

"For example, at one point, he remarks how expensive funerals are and how he can't just make an urn from aluminum paper and plonk it on his wife’s casket with gas station flowers. He then pauses to reflect on how he might do so if he thought he could get away with it. These are moments I hope will make readers chuckle.”

This book turns the definition of thriller on its head. Instead of wondering who committed the murder, the reader tries to discern who is blackmailing Lucas.

Hannah Mary's research for the novel delved into criminal mindsets. She put herself in the shoes of such a character, thinking about what she would do to ensure she wouldn't get caught.

Once she wrote the book, she called one of her author friends, a retired Detective Sergeant from Maine. According to Hannah Mary, when she shared her thought process with him, he laughed and said, "I'm starting to get worried because you thought of almost everything."

As for the dark web, it wasn’t a place Hannah Mary ever wanted to venture. However, she listened to podcasts about it and found the topic fascinating, albeit terrifying.

For example, Hannah Mary discovered the dark web has a rating system like eBay.

"I was surprised to learn that, but I guess if you're going to buy illegal stuff, you want a "reputable" seller, as odd as that sounds," she commented.

Hannah Mary listened to an Audible Original podcast about the history of the dark web, covering how crypto currency works and the history of the Silk Road.

She says, "I didn't spend too much time researching crypto as this isn’t a techno-thriller. I just needed to know the basics."

Hannah Mary spoke about her journey and process as a writer:

  • She credits her drive and organizational skills to her previous corporate career.
  • Hannah Mary identifies her writing process as a plotter. The more Hannah Mary writes, the more extensively she plots.
  • Hannah Mary remarked that she usually works on multiple projects at a time: From the launch of Never Coming Home, and the editing of her thriller for spring of 2023, to the writing of her holiday romance for fall 2023 under the pseudonym Holly Cassidy, and the plotting of her next thriller for 2024, Hannah Mary has been keeping extensively busy.
  • Hannah Mary has become more economical in her process because she now has more deadlines and accountability. 

McKinnon also offered some advice about trusting the process.

"I believe writer's block can be when you're overthinking things. If you get stuck writing a particular chapter, skip ahead to a scene where you know what happens and trust yourself to backfill the missing parts. Nobody said that a book needs to be written in the order it's read."

Thanks to Hannah Mary's history in the recruitment industry and her management and corporate experience, she believes she has been able to navigate the publishing and storytelling space.

“I was previously involved with a lot of networking, public speaking, and relationship building, and that translates very well to the novel writing environment with agents, publishers, editors, and so forth.” 

Also, Hannah Mary spoke about her success as an author and how it has impacted her life around Oakville.

"As an author, I think you need to be of Stephen King or George R.R. Martin's calibre to be recognized in the street because people might know your work but not your face. People who know me are aware this is what I do full time, and I always give copies of my books to the high school my kids attend. I know there are many local readers who are very supportive of my work. Whether you buy my books, read them at the library, or recommend them to people, I am so grateful.”

Hannah Mary's message to the aspiring writer is, “Give yourself the freedom to write the first draft no matter how bad you think it is. Go over it again and again and shape it, but never stop writing.

”If you want to learn more about Hannah Mary, check out her website here and tune in to First Chapter Fun - a twice-weekly program that Hannah Mary runs with fellow crime author Hank Phillippi Ryan where they showcase the first chapter of another author's book.

Hannah Mary’s bestselling novels include:

  • The Neighbors – Amazon bestseller
  • Her Secret Son – Canadian bestseller (Globe & Mail, Toronto Star)
  • Sister Dear – Canadian bestseller (Globe & Mail, Toronto Star)
  • You Will Remember Me – Canadian bestseller (Globe & Mail, Toronto Star)   
  • Never Coming Home – Canadian bestseller (Globe & Mail, Toronto Star)