You were never really here – Jonathan Ames

Title: You were never really here
Author: Jonathan Ames
Published by: Pushkin Press
Publication date: Jan 6th 2013
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 112
Format: Paperback
Source: Bury Library

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A former Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe has seen one too many crime scenes and known too much trauma, and not just in his professional life. Solitary and haunted, he prefers to be invisible. He doesn’t allow himself friends or lovers and makes a living rescuing young girls from the deadly clutches of the sex trade. But when a high-ranking New York politician hires him to extricate his teenage daughter from a Manhattan brothel, Joe uncovers a web of corruption that even he may not be able to unravel. When the men on his trail take the only person left in the world who matters to him, he forsakes his pledge to do no harm. If anyone can kill his way to the truth, it’s Joe…


Rating: 4 out of 5.

You Were Never Really Here is a book that I picked up on a complete whim from the library – I like leaving the library with a book because it’s a reason to go back, but I have a heap of books in my backlog to read already, so wanted something that wouldn’t take much time. At 112 pages, this novella fit the bill perfectly and I read it in a couple of short sessions.

I didn’t realise at the time of reading, only after when doing some review research, that You Were Never Really Here, is a media-tie-in novel. There’s a film of the same name that picks up from the events at the end of the book – so I’ll have to give it a watch because the ending of this book was my biggest gripe!

You Were Never Really Here follows the story of Joe – Former Marine and FBI agent – a man that has gone off the grid and picks up the sorts of odd jobs that no one else wants; specialising in reuniting families with their loved ones that have been sequestered into the sex-trade. Entangled in one such case, that goes horribly wrong, see’s an already damaged man pushed beyond the last remaining fragments of sanity. There is an awareness to Joe and his self-destruction. As a character he knows that he is ultimately broken, the damage being set deep during his childhood via an abusive father. You Were Never Really Here plays dangerously close to tried and tested tropes that often leave characters feeling unoriginal, yet, Jonathan Ames manages to skirt around these tropes with an air of cleverness and masterfully-written, thought provoking characters. There’s enough originality injected into Joe to keep the reader invested in the progress he makes throughout the book and it’s his self-awareness of his problems that feed into this layering of his character.

Joe is undeniably a good guy, but there’s something terrifying about him; his love for hammers and where that originates from – his terribly abusive father. He is doing the right thing, for the wrong reason. He is suicidal and has his death all planned out; but is keeping himself alive purely because he can still be useful to other people – emotionally, he has already checked out. I found this tragic, forlorn aspect to his character intriguing; I still rooted for him, I wanted him to be able to turn his life around and to find a reason to enjoy living again, but You Were Never Really Here, isn’t that sort of book.

The plot itself has enough twists within its few pages to keep the story flowing nicely. Joe is hired by a high-profile politician to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the illegal, underage prostitution, it’s Joes bread and butter. The plot becomes a lot more complicated as the story progresses and the job wasn’t as simple as Joe was lead to believe.

What I adored about this book was how visual the writing style is. Everything that was written and described, from dialogue to action was so vividly presented it felt like I was reading an action film. I had such a clear image of Joe, his situation and actions that it was an addictive read. Moreso because not only did you have these lovely visuals, but with the added bonus of have Joe as a narrator; getting to read his thoughts towards the situations and reading his back story was nothing short of a treat. A rather, depressing, dreary, treat. Which is a treat if you like that sort of thing. I do.

Other than Joe, the handful of side characters don’t have much written about them, they’re purely props there to support the plot and keep things moving along. They aren’t deep in any sense of the word, not even the thirteen year old daughter that Joe is out to rescue; which feels a little bit of a missed opportunity and partially where my hinted-at gripe comes in. When the reveals of the plot are given, the book comes to an abrupt end. Essentially, things within the sex-trafficking arc of the novel are just heating up and Joe is about to get all mentally unhinged on the whole affair. Yet, the book comes to its close and the rest of the story is left to the readers imagination. I believe that this is where the movie tie-in comes in to save the day and finish off the story. Yet, I still feel left in the dark. I would have loved for the book to continue and come to a full resolution in itself.

At first, I thought I’d struggle with You Were Never Really Here, the very first page thrusts the reader into an action scene. Sadly, it’s not to a very high standard. It’s a page filled with very, run on sentencing. I found myself exhausted reading it as well as confused as to what was happening. Too much of “And this happened, then this, and then something else and maybe this too with an added extra thing for emphasis.” Maybe, it wasn’t all that bad, but for the entering shot of the book I was filled with a sense of dread. Thankfully, the writing settled down quickly enough and You Were Never Really Here turned it around to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.


A gritty, depressing thriller that touches on some cliches without fully embracing them. Violence and gore abound written in an easily visual manner that might leave some readers feeling uncomfortable. A well-developed main character turns this novella into more of a character study; especially considering the lack of depth to any of the side characters. Women in this book are purely there to illustrate the horrors in the sex-trade.

5 responses to “You were never really here – Jonathan Ames”

  1. Definately picking this up. Having worked in counter-sex-trafficking investigations, I’m curious if this a place seemingly normal people cpuld descend to to fight the inherant evil.

    Im also curious uf there are johns depicted and if the have the same creepy “normal” self they try to portray even when caught in the act. Dead eyes and devilish smiles. Ewww.


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