Caveat: I don’t read too many thrillers. In fact, I could count the amount of thrillers I’ve read on one hand. For some reason – perhaps because the premise sounded incredibly grimdark to me – I decided to give Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here a go. Like a punch to the gut, the swift viciousness of this story left me wanting not only more of Ames’ protagonist, Joe, but more thrillers in my life as well.
Joe’s military and FBI background make him the perfect person for jobs outside the jurisdiction of the law. In particular, Joe spends much of his time either preparing his body for physical altercations, or actually in action taking down individuals involved in sex-trafficking with his weapon of choice: a hammer. Joe’s systematic routine, however, quickly crumbles as his latest job quickly takes him into the heart of a conspiracy that runs deeper than he could have ever imagined.
"So his hands were weapons, his whole body was a weapon cruel like a baseball bat."
Talk about an explosive, wild story. The plot itself is dark – I mean really dark, and Ames starts Joe’s journey off with intense action and violence that hardly ever lets up. The scenes in which Joe isn’t either brutally beating some disgusting creep with a hammer or on the run from other horrible human beings, are just as intense, only in a more cerebral way.
"The only way for Joe to have survived his father's sadism was to believe that he deserved it, that it was justified, and that belief was still with him and could never be undone."
For such a short book in which every other page is filled with some sort of suspenseful moment, Ames is able transport the reader into Joe’s psyche – a mind and spirit tormented by things he's borne witness to. Joe is very much a lone wolf – save for the fact that he’s a middle-aged man living with his elderly mother – and for good reasons. His is a life full of the very real horrors of the world – whether personally experienced or unceremoniously observed; a life whose sole purpose is to save those who can’t save themselves; a life lived on borrowed time.
You Were Never Really Here is a no-holds-barred, savage look at the cruel, hidden world that surrounds us. It’s eye-opening; it’s relentless; it’s hard to stomach; and it’s a hammer-strike of awesome.