Written by Koethi Zan — It’s one of the most anticipated releases of the summer, and it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for ages. I was intrigued, and I’d pick The Never List up every now and then, just to admire it – because the designers have done such a great job on the publicity packaging. The pages are edged in black, and the book is housed in a black cardboard slip-on with a big keyhole die cut front and centre, allowing a tantalising glimpse of a quote from the book itself. Inspired – because who can resist looking through a keyhole?
When the time came for me to open the cover, I was smiling in anticipation of what was to come. But the smile soon left my face, to be replaced by a frown. Because The Never List is certainly nothing to smile about… Instead, prepare to be consumed by an overwhelming feeling of dark, claustrophobic, despondency. It’s a book to read with all the lights on, so deep are the shadows contained in its pages. The first line features on the cover of my advance copy and sets the scene perfectly: “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.”
Sarah Farber is one of the three survivors, and she is the narrator for the tale. The others are Tracy Elwes, Christine McMasters and Sarah’s best friend, Jennifer. It is Jennifer who one day is taken from the cellar, never to return.
Years later, all three survivors are free, each coping in their own distinct way. Tracy has transformed into an in-your-face punkette, complete with brightly dyed hair, face piercings and 41 tattoos, while Christine has rejected all memories of her previous life and is now a Yummy Mummy in swish Park Avenue, New York. Meantime, Sarah has changed her name to Caroline Morrow, and has a lovely New York apartment and a great job. But don’t let that fool you, because she never crosses the threshold. She works from home, has her food delivered and is visited several times a week by her psychiatrist. Freedom? What freedom?
Sarah has never gotten over the guilt she feels over her friend’s death. They had been inseparable since childhood, and you are never to likely to find a more cautious duo. It all began at age 12, when the girls were in a car crash which killed Jennifer’s mother and left them badly injured. From then on, they obsessed about impending disaster, studying the likelihood of everything from avalanches to wild animal attacks, psychopaths to car crashes. And thus was born The Never List, a long catalogue of things they must never do. So it is ironic that by breaking one of the never list rules – never get into the car – they end up trapped in the cellar, held captive by psychology professor Jack Derber.
Now Derber is up for parole, and still playing mind games with the three girls. Each receives a cryptic letter sent by him from prison, and their contents spur Sarah and Tracy into an uneasy allegiance as they search for evidence that they hope will lead to Derber never being free. Maybe they can also solve the mystery of where he buried Jennifer? The keyhole analogy is very apt for this book, because Sarah, Tracy and Christine are still locked in the events of their past, while the reader is given fleeting glimpses of what life has become for the damaged trio, as they battle against their own instincts – and the evil machinations of Derber.
This is an astonishingly assured debut, and a thoroughly absorbing book which will keep you gripped to the very end. Set aside a whole block of time to read it, because you won’t want to put it down. It comes out on 1 August at just £2.99 on Kindle, and you can read an interview with the author here.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars