A new “heart of darkness” beats at the core of Eric Beetner’s wilderness-noir thriller, There and Back, pumping the blood of tainted legacy through the twisted branches of greed, aggrandizement, and survival. When Synergyn Dynamics once again sends their junior executives on a week-long team-building retreat out in the remote countryside—intended as both an on-the-job interview and an upper-tier perk—it begins a dark descent for this year’s group of unsuspecting participants.
Eight employees of the tech giant and two trained wilderness guides—seven men and three women—head into the woods on day one, but only five emerge on day twenty-three. The survivors quickly realize that leaving behind the traumatic events which occurred in the woods will be impossible—their lives have forever changed course over those dangerous and deadly days.
Eric Beetner divides this bleak narrative into two distinct timelines. The first is a chronological documentation of the team-building retreat from the first day to the moment when the survivors are rescued. The chapter that tells of the rough river crossing required on the first day of the journey could work just as well as a first-class suspense short story, but here lays the needed groundwork for the dark developments to follow. Readers are expertly introduced to each of the participants and their unique personality traits. This will become vital information as the group travels deeper into the remote wilds—of both the forest and their hearts.
Alternating with these “Out There” chapters are sections labeled as “Back Home.” In these chapters, Eric Beetner takes the reader through the re-integration process for those that survived this ordeal—reuniting with loved ones, meeting the press, and of course talking with the authorities investigating the circumstances that led to five missing—presumed dead—persons. Because of the “Out There” chapters, the readers know more than the police and it quickly becomes clear that this group of survivors is hiding something, but are they hiding it from the authorities, their employer, or from themselves?
Readers who enjoyed Jane Harper’s Force of Nature, which tells another tale of a deadly business retreat will find There and Back a worthy tale of corporate team-building, however it cannot be understated that Eric Beetner is a noir storyteller and the narrative here is much darker—almost nihilistic—while also being a sadly realistic depiction of modern-day humanity. Fans of the television series Yellowjackets will be better prepared for the rugged journey this author intends to lead readers through, both in terms of the natural landscape and the emotional expedition. For those who survive until the last page of Eric Beetner’s There and Back—both the characters and the readers—the experience will most certainly be an unforgettable one.
Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.