‘Don’t Turn Around’ by Jessica Barry is a thrilling road trip with two women dealing with a mysterious threat and their pasts

“Don’t Turn Around” by Jessica Barry is this author’s second novel under this pseudonym. Her first, “Freefall” was a huge success (film rights were sold), and this novel has just as much action and intrigue. At first blush, it wouldn’t seem to be a thriller. After all, the plot centers around two women taking a car ride from Lubbock, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

But Barry skillfully manages to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Page after page, we keep reading because we really want to know what happens next. The chapters alternate between the current car ride and the past, and the third person narrative alternates between Cait, who is driving, and Rebecca, who is the passenger.

At first, we don’t know why Cait is picking up Rebecca. We know it’s late at night, and Cait waits impatiently in the car, unsure as to whether or not Rebecca will really leave the house. We know that after 20 minutes, Cait will leave without her passenger, but Rebecca comes out after 15 minutes.

Slowly, we learn more about each woman. We learn about Cait’s struggle to be more than a bartender; she wants to be a writer but hasn’t managed to break into the field successfully. We learn about Rebecca, who is married to Patrick, a politician. We learn how they met, and what their life is like now. And slowly, we learn just why both of those women are in the car together. There are a few twists involved even in that subplot.

But the mystery is the question of who is chasing them. Who is the mysterious driver of the pickup truck who is toying with them in a very dangerous manner? Is it someone from Rebecca’s precarious position, or is it someone trying to kill Cait for something she did and then wrote about? In both cases (not a spoiler), it seems clear that several males are those whom we suspect of trying to hurt the one of the women — and we don’t know which one.

And while Cait and Rebecca are very different women, separated in age by a decade, at heart they come to realize that they might be sisters. And sisters are there for one another in hard times. So this novel is not only a mystery, it’s a novel about female empowerment. And the ending is very satisfying and touching. I’ve grown to care about both women enough that I want a sequel to know how they are doing in the aftermath and what their future holds. It’s almost a guarantee that most readers will, too.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harper, for review purposes.

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