Excerpt from Never by Ken Follett, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Ken Follett

Never by Ken Follett X
Never by Ken Follett
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 816 pages

    Jun 2022, 816 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt

Tab got out of the car, putting a wide-brimmed straw hat on his head, and stood beside her. The hat did not suit him-in fact it looked a bit comical-but he did not seem to care. He was well-dressed but not vain. She liked that.

They both studied the village. Among the houses were cultivated plots striped with irrigation channels. The water had to be brought a long way, Tamara realized, and she felt depressingly sure that it was the women who carried it. A man in a galabiya seemed to be selling cigarettes, chatting amiably with the men, flirting a little with the women. Tamara recognized the white packet with the gold-colored sphinx head: it identified an Egyptian brand called Cleopatra, the most popular in Africa. The cigarettes were probably smuggled or stolen. Several motorcycles and motor scooters were parked outside the houses, and one very old Volkswagen Beetle. In this country the motorcycle was the most popular form of personal transport. Tamara took more pictures.

Perspiration trickled down her sides under her clothes. She wiped her forehead with the end of her cotton headscarf. Tab took out a red handkerchief with white spots and mopped under the collar of his button-down.

"Half these houses are unoccupied," Tab said.

Tamara looked more closely and saw that some of the buildings were decaying. There were holes in the palm-leaf roofs and some of the mud bricks were crumbling away.

"Huge numbers of people have left the area," Tab said. "I guess everyone who has somewhere to go has gone. But there are millions left behind. This whole place is a disaster area."

"And it's not just here, is it?" said Tamara. "This process, desertification at the southern edge of the Sahara, is happening all across Africa, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean."

"In French we call that region le Sahel."

"Same word in English, the Sahel." She glanced back at the car. Its engine was still turning over. "I guess Ali and Pete are going to stay in the air-conditioning."

"If they have any sense." Tab looked worried. "I don't see our man."

Tamara was worried, too. He could have been dead. But she spoke calmly. "Our instructions are that he will find us. Meanwhile we have to stay in character, so let's dip and look around."


"Let's go and look around."

"But what did you say before? Dip?"

"Sorry. I guess it's Chicago slang."

"Now I could be the only French person who knows that expression." He grinned. "But first we should pay a courtesy call on the village elders."

"Why don't you do that? They never take any notice of a woman anyway."


Tab went off and Tamara walked around, trying to remain unflustered, taking pictures and talking to people in Arabic. Most villagers either cultivated a small piece of arid land or had a few sheep or a cow. One woman specialized in mending nets, but there were few fishermen left; a man owned a furnace and made pots, but not many people had any money to buy them. Everyone was more or less desperate.

A ramshackle structure of four posts holding up a network of twigs served as a clothes dryer, and a young woman was pinning up laundry, watched by a boy of about two. Her clothes were the vivid shades of orange and yellow that the people of Chad loved. She hung up her last item, put the child on her hip, then spoke to Tamara in careful schoolgirl French with a strong Arabic accent and invited her into her house.

The woman's name was Kiah, her son was Naji, and she was a widow, she said. She looked about twenty. She was strikingly beautiful, with black eyebrows and bold cheekbones and a curved Saracen nose, and the look in her dark eyes suggested determination and strength. She could be interesting, Tamara thought.

She followed Kiah through the low arched doorway, taking off her shades as she moved from the glare of the sun into deep shadow. The inside of the hut was dim and close and scented. Tamara felt a heavy rug under her feet and smelled cinnamon and turmeric. As her eyes adjusted she saw low tables, a couple of baskets for storage, and cushions on the floor, but nothing she recognized as regular furniture, no chairs or cupboards. To one side were two canvas palliasses for beds and a neat pile of thick wool blankets, brightly striped in red and blue, for the cold desert nights.

Excerpted from Never by Ken Follett. Copyright © 2021 by Ken Follett. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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