The Never List is Koethi Zan's debut novel. Zan hits us hard right from the first page....
"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 quiet when she was gone. For a long time after that, we sat in silence, in the dark, wondering which of us would be next in the box."
Sarah and Jennifer have been friends since childhood. They've lived by a set of 'never' rules. You know - never leave your drink unattended, never let the gas go below a quarter tank etc. But in their first semester of university, they make a mistake. A costly one. They are kidnapped and held captive by a psychopath named Jack. Some of the girls eventually manage to escape, but of course, their lives are never the same.
Sarah has spent the last ten years hiding in her high-rise apartment. Jack has sent her letters the entire time he's been in prison. When the FBI agent associated with her case brings the news that Jack is up for parole, he asks her to attend the hearing to present her statement against parole. (After only ten years?!) Sarah at first says no, but decides to finally face her past - and reclaim her life. But what she and the other survivors encounter is no less horrifying that their time in the cellar. Some details from the past are slowly revealed as the women try to crack the clues Jack has left for them in an attempt to find evidence to keep Jack in prison longer. Is someone still carrying on his bidding outside of the prison?
Zan's book released before the news of Amanda Berry's release, but the cases are eerily similar.
The book started out quite promising, but the second half just didn't live up to the promise. It seemed like Zan flipped a switch and said 'action! All the right elements are in place for a thriller, but I found some actions stretched credibility for me. Sarah is an agoraphobic suffering but PTSD, but is suddenly able to fly, drive alone, go to places that hold horrific memories and play Nancy Drew. Yes, her coping is discussed but I just found it too much of a stretch. As were some characters. The FBI agent has to be the most ineffectual lawman I've seen in a book in a long time. Connections and coincidences were too neat and ready. The 'twist' ending, while good, was telegraphed long before the final pages.
Zan has worked as an entertainment lawyer for many years and the book seems to draw on that background. Sensationalistic, plotlines that were implausible and too much action. Yes, too much to be believable. Kidnapped twice in one day?!
The book has several cover blurbs from many suspense/thriller authors that I read, which was prompted me to pick up the book in the first place. But for this reader it didn't live up to those blurbs. It wasn't in the same class as Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter - comparisons made by the publisher. It was a good, solid debut, but not a stand out for me. That being said, I think Zan has promise and will mature with future books. (Gentle readers be warned - violence and graphic descriptions.) Read an excerpt of The Never List.
You can find Koethi Zan on Facebook and on Twitter.