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Book excerpt: "Never" by Ken Follett

"Never" (Viking) is the latest thriller from Ken Follett, the bestselling author of historical fiction and spy novels, including "Edge of Eternity," "Eye of the Needle," and "The Pillars of the Earth."

In "Never," the first female U.S. president tries to manage crises at home and abroad that could lead to World War III.

Read an excerpt below.


President Pauline Green had twice postponed her visit to Munchkin Country. It had been scheduled once every year she had been in office, but there was always something more important to do. This time she felt she had to go. It was a mild September morning in the third year of her presidency.

Munchkin Country was a secret. Everyone knew about the Raven Rock Complex in Colorado, the underground nuclear bunker where military leaders planned to shelter during a nuclear war. That was a real facility that would be important, but it was not where the president would go. A lot of people also knew that underneath the East Wing of the White House was the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, used in crises such as 9/11. However, that was not designed for long-term post-apocalypse use.

Munchkin Country would keep a hundred people alive for a year.

President Green was met by a General Whitfield. In his late fifties, he was round faced and plump, with an amiable manner and a marked lack of military aggression. Pauline felt quite sure he was not in the least interested in killing enemies – which was, after all, what soldiers were for. His lack of bellicosity would be why he had ended up in this job.

It was a genuine storage facility, and signs directed deliveries to a loading dock. Whitfield led the party through a small side door, and that was where the atmosphere changed.

They were confronted by a massive double door that would have looked appropriate at the entrance to a maximum-security prison.

The room it led to felt suffocating. It had a low ceiling, and its walls seemed nearer, as if they were several feet thick. The air had a bottled taste.

"This blast- proof room exists mainly to protect the elevators," Whitfield said.

As they entered the elevator, Pauline quickly lost the impatient sense that she was engaged in an exercise that was barely necessary. This began to feel portentous.

Whitfield said: "With your permission, Madam President, we'll go all the way down and work back up."

"That will be fine, thank you, General."

As the elevator descended he said proudly: "Ma'am, this facility offers you one hundred percent protection if the United States should suffer any of the following: a pandemic or plague; a natural disaster such as a large meteorite hitting the Earth; riot and major civil disorder; a successful invasion by conventional military forces; cyberattack; or nuclear war."

If this list of potential catastrophes was meant to reassure Pauline, it failed. It reminded her that the end of civilization was possible and she might have to shelter in this hole in the ground so that she could try to save a remnant of the human race.

She thought she might prefer to die on the surface.

Excerpted from "Never." Copyright © 2021 by Ken Follett. Reprinted by permission of Viking Press. All Rights Reserved.

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