The Never List, by Koethi Zan

review published on July 4, 2013. Reviewed by Jan Kilpatrick

Told from the perspective of the escaped victim of a De Sadeian professor of psychology who she helped to bring to justice some ten years previously, debut novelist  Zan carefully drip-feeds the background story of this damaged girl and her fellow captives whilst relentlessly pushing forward an increasingly tense narrative centred on finding the fourth ‘missing’ girl from the period of their imprisonment in the cellar.

The terrible details of the torture and calculated brutality are there but meted out subtly. They are a known fact from the beginning but the primary focus never dwells on prurient sexploitation, rather on the ways victims cope in the face of such terror and the psychology of those who inflict such suffering. That said, whilst there are characters in the book who undertake psychological studies of suffering and highly deviant and excessive behaviour and indeed the whole narrative thrust of the novel focuses on this, the book itself is not profound or academic in this sense.  It is a fairly crude journey for the central character from being traumatised to a degree where she has not been able to go out into the world, to that of bold adventuress, determinedly in pursuit of the truth and her missing friend. Nevertheless, it is a pacey, well-structured ‘detective’ story which propels the reader forward through a series of gripping moments with the real threat of danger intensifying as all reaches a surprising climax.

There are moments when the suspension of disbelief is stretched thin and it feels as if the story has been written with TV in mind – particularly when a desperate situation is theatrically resolved by the arrival of a former cellar-mate. However, the relief felt is genuine and events continue to unfold with such an imperative thrust that, having read the book, I would happily watch the film were it made.

The blurb ‘hooked’ me, the subject matter could have very easily been handled badly but I remained hooked, finishing the book in record time. I can’t say that I empathised with the characters but in this age of fascination with crime – Scandi, home-grown or American – it ticked a lot of boxes.


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An extract from Wicked Autumn, by G. M. Malliet

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