Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

RIP VIII Review: ‘The Never List’ by Koethi Zan

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity. And then, very suddenly and without warning, there were three. Even though the fourth person hadn’t made any noise at all in several months, the room got very quiet when she was gone.For a long time after that, we sat in silence, in the dark, each of us wondering what this meant for her and for us, and which of us would be the next in the box.

NEVER GET IN THE CAR…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, they failed to follow their own rules.

NEVER GO OUT ALONE AFTER DARK…Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her ordeal. But now the FBI has news that forces her to confront her worst fears.

NEVER TAKE RISKS…If she is to uncover the truth about what really happened to Jennifer, Sarah needs to work with the other women who shared her nightmare. But they won’t be happy to hear from her. Because down there in the dark, Sarah wasn’t just a victim.

NEVER TRUST ANYONE


Review

If you’d asked me a few years ago whether I’d ever read a book about a girl that is abducted while at university and held captive with three other girls for months on end and tortured, I’d have laughed in your face.  The story of four girls who have been abducted and kept prisoner by a man that tortures them?  BLEUGH! And yet, along came RIP VIII and an opportunity to read well out of my comfort zone.  Am I glad I did?  I’m not sure, really.  But not for the reasons you might think. 

The Never List opens with Sarah, survivor of said barbaric treatment, trying to get through life in the wake of her experiences.  Isolated from the world almost entirely, she works from home, gets food delivered to her crisp, white apartment so that she doesn’t have to brave the streets and relies heavily on house visits by a psychiatrist.  Basically, she’s decided that she no longer wishes to take the risks that fully engaging with society entails and so has retreated.  Her captor is in jail but, tragically, was only convicted on lesser crimes that could be proved and probably won’t face nearly as much time behind bars as society might have hoped.  The novel starts with the agent that worked on the original investigation visiting Sarah and dropping the bombshell that her abductor is facing a parole board and may soon be released.  His intention is to ask Sarah to appear at the parole hearing and counter his Delivered Criminal performance with a Traumatised Escapee one.  Somehow, she hears that as, “Please go back out into the world and prove that he is also a murderer so that we can extend his sentence instead of just getting his parole refused”.

And that right there is my main gripe with The Never List.  I am all in favour of strong women and of triumph over adversity.  Who isn’t?  What I’m not as much of a fan of are characters who suddenly overcome very serious psychological conditions without much in the way of a realistic explanation.  When the story starts, Sarah has severe agoraphobia and is dealing with a number of other phobias, only some of which are a result of her horrendous treatment (and even though “horrendous treatment” doesn’t really seem strong enough, we’ll go with it for now). Understandably, she is terrified of leaving the familiar confines of her apartment and straying into the world in which she was abducted and held captive for years.  Faced with the potential release of her former captor, however, Sarah decides that she will no longer be agoraphobic and/or afraid of flying and such like and will play amateur detective.  There are vestiges of her phobias that are apparent in some of her actions and interactions but mostly she seems to function pretty well.

I just don’t know if I ever bought into the insta-recovery, to be honest.  I think I could have got on board with Sarah being spurred into action if she’d done it in a bit more of a realistic way.  Say, by keeping in touch with the psychiatrist that she had apparently been seeing and speaking with very regularly in the years between her escape and the novels events?  By keeping a clearly sympathetic police agent in the loop while she was following leads and breaking and entering?  She’s clearly driven by the need to honour Jennifer’s memory but I thought that there was an element of laziness in having Sarah suddenly breaking free of the shackles of her mind to chase down clues and indulge in a little late-night, leather-clad investigating at a secret BDSM club.  Really?  Flying across states, approaching a stranger for information, driving to a club in the middle of the night, dressing in leather and conversing with BDSM club members before so much as visiting the local shop for a pint of milk? Too much, too soon and something that really stopped me throwing myself into the story.

Speedy moving on aside, the novel does touch on some interesting psychological points when looking at why Sarah’s captor might have done what he did while she’s searching for answers about what really happened to Jennifer.  I actually think that there could have been a little more made of that.  It seemed a waste to have a professor who specialises in deviant behaviour and the possible causes and not to really make the most of it.  I think the novel would have been stronger with that focus and tightness.  As it is, it’s a neat tie-in and link between the secret life of Sarah’s tormentor and his public one but little more.

For all my moaning, there is pace to the story, with twists thrown in at regular intervals that were enough to keep me from acknowledging how unrealistic their revelation might have been.  If you just go with the fact that Sarah is managing to stave off imminent panic attacks long enough to conduct an unofficial investigation, the story is gripping and has very few lulls in terms of timing.  Most of the characters are pretty damaged and have secrets that are exposed in excellent moments.  The ending did surprise me and I spent a few minutes gaping at my eReader in a most undignified fashion but I’m not sure that I really bought it.  I mean, I understood it well enough, but I’m not sure that it was explained sufficiently to really make me believe in it and spend more than a few minutes gaping before I’d finished reading and moved on to thinking about something else.  

Overall:  The Never List is a reasonable enough thriller and is very dark.  There are some holes in the plot and some questions that you will almost certainly never get answers to but it should appeal to those looking for something that straddles the mystery/horror line.  A word to the wise: if you don’t want to read fairly regular allusions to torture that can be pretty grim indeed, you may want to skip this.  Seriously.

Date finished:  30 September 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley – thank you, Harvill Secker!
Genre:  Thriller; Mystery
Pictured Edition Published: by Harvill Secker in August 2013
This is the second of three books that I’ve read so far for RIP VIII but the one I felt most like reviewing this evening.  Couldn’t tell you exactly why but it MIGHT BE because I want to plead with anybody who’s read it to let me know because I am *dying* to talk to somebody about one particular aspect of the book but don’t want to get too spoiler-y!