I will admit – normally mystery and suspense books can keep me up at night and get me to double and triple check the locks on my doors. The Never List by Koethi Zan, however, was a bit too rushed to get me scared. The premise of a woman (Sarah), who is still recovering from being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured for years, a decade after the events, got me thinking and I was eager to read this book. Overall, however, the plot was entirely unrealistic with erroneous details and inconsistencies throughout the story.
The story begins with Sarah reminiscing about growing up with her best friend Jennifer; after a tragic accident in which Jennifer lost her mother, the two girls begin making “The Never List” which is a list of things to avoid in order to stay safe and avoid danger: “Never get in a car with strangers,” “Never park more than six spaces from where you are going,” etc. As the girls grow up and go off to college, they continue the list as roommates, always making sure that they are looking out for each other.
They never could have planned for what happens one night, however, as they are kidnapped and driven to a shack in the woods, with Sarah waking up to find she is chained to the walls, and Jennifer is trapped inside a wooden box. In present day, Sarah is recovering through extensive therapy, and lives in New York City, working out of her home as an actuary (still obsessed with risk and probability). Clearly, she still has the physical and emotional scars of her confinement, and this is only made worse when Jim, the FBI agent handling the case, informs her that Jack Derber, has sent another letter to her (a habit that he has had over the years, instilling panic and terror in Sarah as well as the two other survivors from the basement, Tracy and Christine). Sarah, who hasn’t set foot out of her apartment in ages is shaken by the news, but after reading the letter and hearing that Jack will be up for parole soon, realizes that she must find Jennifer’s body in order to prove Derber was guilty of murder and will stay in prison forever.
What follows is a series of unrealistic and inconsistent actions. First, after avoiding going anywhere outside of her safe apartment (even refusing to visit her parents), Sarah hops on a plane to Oregon to visit Derber’s wife Sylvia who may know where Jennifer’s body is buried (little things like pumping her own gas in Oregon which is one of the few states where only attendants are allowed to do so make the story appear a bit under-researched). She begins weaving a tale about why she is looking for Sylvia and asking questions about Derber, and soon begins to suspect that there is more than she will be able to unearth alone. After asking Derber’s former research assistant, Adele, for some help, Sarah also begs Tracy to come join her in the search. The women realize that they have been receiving letters that may have important clues for one another, and agree to meet.
Soon the girls have uncovered a dark web of secrets, but the whirlwind jet-setting that takes place is entirely unrealistic (especially given that Sarah hasn’t driven a car in years and could hardly walk down to her apartment lobby without panicking only days before). While there are surprises in the story, and a macabre world makes the story even spookier than it is in the beginning, in general, there is little development to explain certain things, and the ending (which is entirely predictable) is rushed and sudden.
While this has bits of a good story, overall, there are better mystery and suspense stories out there that are less hasty in their delivery.