It’s a steamy October day and if this cover doesn’t put you in the mood for a chiller, I don’t know what will.
The Never List by Koethi Zan is an intense, backwards-glancing story told by Sarah, a recovering victim looking for a body and a little peace of mind.
After a bad car accident when they were 13, Sarah and her best friend Jennifer begin The Never List, an ever-growing list of things they’ll never do in the interest of avoiding catastrophe. They fill one notebook after the next with this list – never trust a stranger with a flate tire, never “be stranded”. They know the statistical probability of dying in a plane crash and developing cancer, but it’s the darker things they see on CNN, the terrible things people do to each other that terrifies most.
The girls stick to each other and their list through high school and into their freshman year of college. Had they not let heir guards down, not gone to that party that night and gotten into that car, maybe Sarah and Jennifer wouldn’t have been abducted, held captive and tortured alongside two other girls for 3 long years. The worst part is that one of them didn’t make it out.
Sarah is in her early 30’s living a reclusive life in a NYC high rise when she finds out Jack Derber is up for parole and stands a chance of getting out. The body of his victim was never found so he never went to trail for murder. And he’s made it clear in his cryptic letters that as soon as he gets out he’s coming for his girls that got away. Sarah knows her friend’s body was there and something tells her she has to go back to Oregon to find evidence herself or Derber goes free.
The problem is Sarah never leaves her apartment so stepping outside and flying across the country to investigate her abductor and torturer is beyond challenging. You feel her every creeping anxiety and that compounds your reading angst as this search not only keeps her out past dark, but leads her down the shadiest of shady lanes.
Stopping for gas she observes an attendant longingly:
I noticed with no small satisfaction that the attendant was locked away from me behind unbreakable plexiglass. If only everyone could be like that.
Zan digs into the psychology of pain and fear. The walls preventing Sarah from moving forward go deeper than she realizes, making this equal parts suspense and mystery, yet the very real dangers are just as scary as any ghost story.
Sarah’s traumatized narration is believable without feeling weak or distant. Just the opposite. She recognizes pretty early on that if she’s ever going to break through, she has to face her deepest fears. If she fails, she goes back to living in constant fear and with good reason.
The flow of the writing is natural and painfully specific. You’re in her head one minute and driving down a dark dirt road following a suspicious van the next. The only scene I could have done without was one where Sarah sees another victim’s face in her own reflection.
The most terrifying thing about this book is its realism. Writing is superb. Because of the stakes, Sarah’s search draws you in and doesn’t let you put this book down until you’ve seen it through. Read it! Read it right now. If you get scared, eat some pumpkin bread and watch Teen Witch.