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There is a frequently paraphrased quotation that goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But there is also a well-known aphorism that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” This is a story where those truisms come together like a train wreck, at the very least a commentary on one of the darkest underbellies of American sub-culture.
No Winter Lasts Forever by Jonathan Epps takes place in the present, with mass shootings in the news every other week, an opioid epidemic that’s out of control, and an entire generation of young people who will, by all current economic measures, not do as well as their parents, let alone better, as previous generations have before them.
This story also takes place inside the head of Jackson Warner, a 52-year-old man in tiny Franklin, Missouri, who learns of a shooting at the school where he taught for many years. If matters can be worse, and, they are, Jackson discovers his 21-year-old nephew is on the exact same path as the shooters.
Jackson won’t allow him to sit idly by. He needs to do something to fix what feels like his little corner of the national malaise. Even if all he can really do is attempt to get his nephew on a different course. He wants justice.
The story here is, in many ways, Jackson’s descent into a kind of madness. He begins to haunt the underground internet chat rooms where misguided young men trash talk each other and discuss gunning the world down. He loses track of his real life, his girlfriend, his family, and especially himself.
It’s not an easy read. Jackson’s online flirtation with those who want to end it all and take as many as possible down with them is visceral. As his walk through very dark places consumes his life, he takes on a few too many of the attitudes of the young men he says he’s “investigating.” His anger at everything he sees wrong in society is palatable and soon spins out of control.
Readers may feel that his descent into that underworld goes on a bit too long, or at least reading about it does. The online chat room language is repetitive, incoherent, unrelieved in its violence, and probably requires all the trigger warnings available for a SWAT team to mobilize. It feels authentic, and it’s terrifying. However much like a train wreck, Epps’s writing is so compelling that readers will be unable to turn their eyes away; in fact, they won’t be able to put the book down.
And just when he seems to draw back from the madness all around, it comes for Jackson and those he holds dear. He has ignored Friedrich Nietzsche’s warning. He has gazed into the abyss too long, never realizing that the abyss has gazed back at him.
It may be true that “no winter lasts forever,” but when the metaphorical spring finally comes, will it be enough to bring Jackson Warner into the light? You’ll have to read it to find out!
This story is an affecting read, but not a comfortable one. The reader is inside Jackson’s head every step of the way and wants to urge him to retreat before it is too late. That he does not, causes the reader to close the book with a shiver of dread. And that’s exactly the thing that makes Jonathan Epps one of our favorite new thriller authors.