Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: The Never List

Summary: For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”:  a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs.  But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

A shocking, blazingly fast read, Koethi Zan’s debut is a must for fans of Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and S.J. Watson. -- Pamela Dorman Books

When I read the publisher's description for THE NEVER LIST by Koethi Zan, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. Not only do I really like the authors Ms. Zan was compared to, but I also thought the timeliness of the novel, given the recent discovery of the girls who were hidden for years in Ohio, was especially intriguing. Little did I know just how disturbing, but in a good way, THE NEVER LIST would be!

I usually don't go out of my way to pick up books that will make me lose sleep; however, THE NEVER LIST ended up scaring me... a lot. It tells the story of Sarah, a young woman who is trying to find some sense of normalcy in her life after being a prisoner in a crazy man's basement ten years earlier. I say normalcy kind of tongue-in-cheek because Sarah is living pretty much as a hermit and has changed her name so one will associate her with the horrors from her past. Sarah is also dealing with a fair amount of survivor's guilt because her best friend Jennifer wasn't so lucky -- Sarah couldn't escape in time to save her.

Sarah has gone through a great deal of therapy in an attempt to recover from the cruelties of her past; however, she hasn't totally been able to escape from her captor's hold on her. He still sends her disturbing letters from prison, and things really escalate for Sarah now that he's eligible for parole. Despite her fears, Sarah is determined to keep him behind bars, and she decides to take a trip across the country to uncover many of his secrets. She contacts her fellow prisoners (who are also dealing with their fair share of demons), and together they get involved in a world of cults and sexual torture that is worse than even they could have ever imagined.

So.... have I scared you away from THE NEVER LIST with my description? I sure hope not because I think this novel is a strong debut for Ms. Zan. Yes, it's twisted and scary and even uncomfortable to read, but it's also an edge-of-the seat thriller that captured my attention from the very first page. I admit that I wasn't entirely sure where the story was going and there were times when it seemed a little outrageous, but I was willing to suspend reality given that some of the stories I've read recently in the news are just as strange (if not stranger) than this piece of fiction.

There were quite a few things I really enjoyed about THE NEVER LIST -- namely that it managed to scare the crap out of me. I read a fair amount of crime books and few have this effect on me. I think, no I know, that's a testament to the author. I appreciated about she set up the story, leaving the reader with tons of questions about Sarah's past; and then I appreciated even more how that story unfolded with flashbacks. Furthermore, I liked how there were so many twists and turns. I can't go into too much about this aspect of the novel, but suffice it to say, you will be shocked with some of the things that happen in this book!

Another impressive part of THE NEVER LIST were the characters. Naturally, I liked Sarah and my heart went out to her because of what she experienced with her psycho captor. I appreciated seeing how damaged she was but also how she was able to overcome her fears and work towards some sort of justice. I also found the women who were held captive with Sarah to be extremely interesting. They all shared their captivity, but each one dealt with the aftereffects in a different way. And then, I admit that I was fascinated by the all of the twisted characters in the story. I'm definitely not sure I understood their behavior, but I did find it interesting!

Overall, I think THE NEVER LIST is a powerful debut by a writer-to-watch. Recommended for fans of psychological thrillers.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Beth F said...

Wow! This sounds like a must read -- for when you know you won't be alone.

bermudaonion said...

Yours is the second review I've read that says this book is scary! It may sound odd but I'm looking forward to it. I could never see a movie like that but I love that kind of book. Go figure.