Title: The Never List
Author: Koethi Zan
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (Viking)
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Source: ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Ladies and gents, let me tell you how STOKED I was when I received this ARC in the mail. The creepy cover, the ominous description with words like "captive" and "perverse" and "torture"...call me a psycho, but it's right up my alley.
Between the time I received the ARC and started reading it, the Cleveland abduction case came to light, which added a scary bit of a real-life feel to the novel as well. The case made me especially curious as to how Zan approached this type of crime in the book.
However, while there were many things I enjoyed about The Never List, I have to say that it wasn't everything I hoped for.
Let's start with the positives. The overall premise of the novel, and its beginning, are exactly as chilling as the description will have you believe. I flew through the first 50-ish pages in my quest to discover what happened to Sarah, Jennifer, and their companions in their abductor's basement dungeon. Zan uncovers details of their captivity very slowly, in a way that leaves you desperate to flip the next page and find out more. And there is no shortage of unexpected twists and turns--especially at the end. I definitely didn't see the conclusion coming, which is a major plus for any thriller as far as I'm concerned.
But why didn't The Never List make my favorites list? First issue: the characters. Their development was clunky and too convenient at times. Sarah, who has been a paranoid shut-in for years, suddenly finds the strength to not only leave her apartment, but fly all around the country and interact with total strangers in order to solve this mystery. These changes in her personality happen so quickly that they left me feeling skeptical. The same goes for her relationship with Tracy (one of the other former captives)--mortal enemies for years, they suddenly become buddy-buddy Charlie's Angels in an effort to team up against their abductor. And another former captive, Christine, makes such a sudden change of heart partway through the novel that I had to suppress an eye-roll.
Similarly, many of the clues dropped throughout the novel felt like they didn't come about naturally. There were way too many occasions when Sarah would ask someone she just met if they had any information, and lo and behold--here they are with a juicy tidbit that they never told anybody for all these years! Not even the police when they were investigating! How lucky for us, eh? Much like the personality changes in the characters, these clue reveals felt awkward and too timely...definitely not an advantage in the thriller genre.
Final verdict? The Never List is a solid three-star novel for me. It's got enough creepy intrigue to pull you in quickly, and there are certainly a lot of twists and turns along the way. I just wish that the plot movement felt a bit (a lot?) more natural. With more subtle characterization and smoother inclusion of detail, this could have been a five-star for sure.