The Never List is one of several books that were published last year to capitalize on the huge popularity of Gone Girl. Unfortunately, The Never List never comes close to reaching the tension and suspense of Gillian Flynn’s work.
Caroline has managed to arrange her life so that she has not left her New York apartment for years. She was once Sarah, held captive with three other women for years and subjected to torture by a crazed psychology professor named Jack Derber. Derber’s parole hearing is coming up, and Agent McCordy is trying to prepare her to testify. That would mean she would have to leave her apartment.
Of course, Sarah doesn’t want Derber out of jail, but she is more concerned about whatever happened to her best friend Jennifer, with whom she was kidnapped. After a car accident in their teens in which Jennifer’s mother was killed, Sarah and Jennifer constructed the Never List, things they would not do that would put them in danger. One of those things was to never walk back to their college dormitory at night after a party. It was after they got into the car they thought was their cab that they were kidnapped. The last time Sarah saw Jennifer alive was in that car. After that, Jennifer was kept in a box in Derber’s basement.
Sarah begins to believe that letters she receives from Derber hold coded clues for her fellow victims Tracy and Christine, and that theirs may hold clues for her. In hopes of finding Jennifer’s body, she tries to get them to help. She believes that Jack’s wife Amelia, the member of a religious cult, might know something. But when she travels to Oregon to see her, she can’t find her.
Eventually, Sarah begins traipsing all over the country looking for clues, later helped by Tracy.
The first thing that struck me was the novel’s narrative style, a certain flavor of first person that reminds me of the style adopted for many young adult novels. I find it irritating, used to provoke a false intimacy.
I also found it completely unlikely that an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her apartment in years and is full of terror could put it aside and suddenly begin flying and driving all over the country. I had this same complaint about Louise Millar’s Accidents Happen, and that character was only traveling around the city.
Zan doesn’t successfully build suspense in this novel. At one point, Tracy and Sarah are captive in a van with a bunch of women and you wonder how they are ever going to get out, when before it can get too scary, they are miraculously released. Not only does she make this happen too quickly to build the suspense, but the character who releases the women has somehow managed to fly straight across the country from New York to Oregon in a few hours, just in time to witness them being kidnapped. (I only have to travel halfway across the country to Oregon, and it takes me almost all day.) Other scenes that could be terrifying are not.
I won’t go into much more detail about the plot, which mixes serial killing and torture, S & M clubs, human trafficking, and cults. Did I miss the kitchen sink? Suffice it to say, I did not believe this book for a minute.