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Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Wolf and His Elf


Fairy tales--and those who enjoy them--fall into two distinct camps. There are the frothy, don’t-worry-because-nothing-too-terrible-could-ever-possibly-happen stories, with their shiny-happy people and dreamy, feel-good endings. A bit of harmless frippery, if you will;
pleasant but predictable, they’re perfect for Pollyannas and anyone in need of a few warm fuzzies. 
And then there are those tales which avoid all light like the plague, opting instead to hurtle straight into the darkness. Here we find the ugly, wicked, and terrifying, with their nightmare-on-acid settings and less-than-peachy-keen endings. Unsurprisingly, it is these latter--the moody, atmospheric stories--which really resonate with me. (Well, what did you expect? One look at my über-furry boycat, and it’s obvious he’s over-qualified to provide all the warm fuzzies I’ll ever need. ;))
To say I was excited to hear about a new, modern-day fairy tale coming down the pike, then, would be something of an understatement. (The fact that it was penned by an award-winning author with a prodigious number of works already under his belt? If I’d needed any more persuasion, that would surely have done it.) I bring you Reginald Hill’s The Woodcutter...
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Once upon a time, there lived a boy who became a man and found all of his dreams coming true. Raised the son of an humble woodcutter in the wilds of Cumbria, young Wolf Hadda decided to leave his bucolic home in order to make his way in the world... with the hope that he might one day claim the hand of the fairest maiden in all the land--Imogen, the beautiful and headstrong princess who lived in the mansion on the other side of the woods.
Luck was with the young Wolf, who--after mysteriously disappearing for a few years--became a hugely-successful entrepreneur, with a business boasting publicly-traded stocks and offices around the world. The fair princess agreed to marry the newly-flush and important Wolf, and before long their beautiful London home was graced with a little princess of their own to spoil and adore. Friends gravitated towards them; they were a powerful and handsome couple, and everyone wanted to bask in their presence and to share in their good fortune.
Little did Wolf know it was all but a house of cards, nor that it takes but a mere knock at the door to topple such a flimsy structure...
When we pick up the story, Wolf has just been accused of a heinous crime and is subsequently unceremoniously hauled off to jail. He‘s furious, of course, but assumes the police will realize their mistake soon enough and release him. That isn’t to be, however; before the day is done, they find more than enough evidence to back up the claims. Wolf, it becomes clear, isn’t going anywhere. 
Matters only continue to get worse. No one--not his friends, not his employees nor business associates, not even his own family--seems willing to believe his protestations of innocence. Even after being seriously wounded in a freak accident while in custody, Wolf receives no pity. He convalesces in hospital until he’s ambulatory, then it’s a quick trial and off to prison he goes, to serve out a lengthy sentence. That fairy tale life he was living? Up in a puff of smoke. And from that point forward, the formerly-charmed Wolf retreats into a den of silence, which no one is able to break.
Until seven years later, that is, when--for reasons of his own--he decides to open up to Alva Ozigbo, the young psychiatrist newly-appointed to the prison. After a rocky start, the two of them make progress... so much so, in fact, that they develop a tentative friendship based on an uneasy-but-mutual respect. When Wolf comes up for parole, Alva (or Elf, as he calls her) persuades the board that he is well and truly rehabilitated and safe to return to society.
The outside waiting for Wolf is a vastly-different place from the one he inhabited during his on-top-of-the-world fairy tale years, though. This world seems a brutally-grim one; he has no money, his companies are gone, his (former) friends have shunned him, and his wife has left him to pursue greener pastures. It is also to this same unhappy tableau that the Woodcutter returns. 
During Wolf’s disappearance as a young man bent on making his fortune, he was known not by his name, but rather, simply as the Woodcutter. The jobs for which the Woodcutter was paid handsomely were on the far side of the law... and now he’s back in action once again, this time seeking revenge on those who engineered his downfall.
Can Elf’s belief in Wolf chip away at the Woodcutter persona and stop him before it’s too late and the quest for vengeance has ruined whatever good remains in him? Or, will each swing of the Woodcutter’s ax bring him closer and closer to the jagged edge from which there is no return... leaving only the grimmest of endings to this fairy tale? 
❅ ~ ❅ ~ ❅ ~ ❅ ~ ❅ ~ ❅
It took me several pages to get into The Woodcutter, and I was getting a wee bit worried. (Past that point, it quickly became apparent how absurd that fear was--but for those first few pages, it was a little dicey.) Once things started rolling, though, and I understood who the players were and got a handle on what was going on, I was all in; this is one of those rare books with an almost magical power to suck you in and then keep you in a state of nervous dread and anticipation until the very last page.
Everything--for me--is “right” about this book. Complex (but realistic) characters, which don’t rely on easy stereotypes for categorization. Believable emotions and reactions, which ring true to each character’s nature. Fully-realized plotting, which takes numerous and unpredictable twists, turns, and detours... but winds up precisely where it feels as though it ought. And everything, everywhere, gloriously dark and broody. 
Speaking of atmosphere, this one does it brilliantly (or so I’m assuming, having never been to Cumbria--or England at large, for that matter). Hill offers a stunning depiction of his native land, from the lushness of the densely-wooded forests to the dangerous-but-undeniable allure of the rocky cliffs and craggy hills surrounding it all; from the clear icy-blue of the skies to the crisp bite of the cold air and the frigid crunch of the layers of snow and ice. The attitudes and responses of small-town folk are spot-on, too, with their wary distrust of outsiders and their hearty (if unobtrusive) support, once earned.
As for how to classify The Woodcutter? It’s a fabulous mystery, certainly, and a cracking-good psychological suspense. It is, by turns, humorous and shocking and unnerving. It's a very human story, about falling in--and out--of love, about scaling the peaks and plummeting to the very bottom. It's a modern work, with classical sensibilities. And, it is a lyrical piece, full of rich prose and immense beauty... as befits, of course, any true fairy tale worth its salt. 
It is, in a word, perfection.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 (out of 5) Enthusiastic Mousies!! 

Note: The Woodcutter will be released August 2, 2011. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Stolen Life


What are we, if not the sum total of our memories?
Whether for good or bad, everything we’ve done, seen, and experienced to this point has had a hand in shaping who we are. It’s not just the “juicy” bits that matter, either, such as how our recollections of those historic “firsts” (first kiss, first time going to a funeral, first time having sex, first time getting really drunk, first time falling in love, etc.) may have affected our future actions. Rather, it’s the memories of all the mundane stuff--our everyday interactions with others, the patterns and routines we take for granted--which play the biggest role in filling in the details, making us “us”.
But what would happen if we didn’t have that built-in store of experiential memories, of things big and small accomplished and lessons learned, guiding us? How would the absence of things remembered affect how we see ourselves... and what havoc would it play with our sense of reality, and sanity? 
These are the questions asked in S.J. Watson’s quietly-explosive debut, Before I Go to Sleep...
§ ~ § ~ § ~ § ~ § ~ § 
Just like the rest of us, Christine Lucas wakes to pretty much the same routine every morning. She gets up, has breakfast, dresses herself, then goes about her various chores and tasks for the day. 
That’s where the similarities come to an abrupt stop, though, because unlike the rest of us, when Christine wakes up in the morning, she has no idea who she is or how she got there. 
Oh, she knows how to do certain things. She can find the closet and pick out something to wear, she knows how to put on makeup, and she can cook and clean and take care of the basics. What she can’t do is recognize the face of the man lying in bed next to her each morning (that would be her husband). Nor does she recognize herself when she looks in the bathroom mirror; the reflection looks much, much older than she thinks it ought. The house, the furnishings, her clothes and jewelry? None of it is familiar to her. Her past--her childhood, teenage years, adulthood? A blank slate.
Are these the tragic results of serious drug abuse? Perhaps signs of early-onset dementia? No... but it has been Christine’s way of life for the past eighteen years, now, and with the dawn of each new day, she is frustrated all over again, saying:
“All I want is to feel normal. To live like everybody else, with experience building on experience, each day shaping the next. I want to grow, to learn things, and from things.”
Christine’s day goes something like this (and remember that this is ANY day. EVERY day.):  After getting out of bed and finding her way to the bathroom (because that, at least, is universal behavior), she’s greeted by a collection of photos, tacked to the perimeter of the mirror. They hold a sampling of her own history--shots of her in college, dating her (now-)husband Ben, out with friends, on vacations, etc.--and they aren’t meant to remind her of the past she can’t recall, but rather to re-teach it to her anew each morning. During the uneasy breakfast which follows (with the attractive stranger who has assured her that he is, indeed, her long-wed partner, despite the fact she remembers nothing whatsoever about him), Ben proceeds to fill in some of the blanks, including the all-important “how did this happen?!” (which he explains as the freakish result of a hit-&-run accident). When he finally heads off to work, he leaves behind a scrapbook (full of more photos), his emergency number programmed into a cellphone, and a list of suggestions for things she might do that day (simple household tasks such as “do laundry” or “unload dishwasher”, by and large, since she would have no idea where she was to go out and do anything outside of the house). And after all that, she does... well, she can only guess what she typically does to fill up the remainder of the day and night, because by the time she’s woken up the next morning, every bit of her memory--including whatever took place the preceding day--has been wiped away once more.
Nearly twenty years go by like that... until one day, she gets a call on a cellphone she finds hidden in her purse.  This isn’t the phone Ben gave her... and the voice on the other end isn’t his. It’s someone claiming to be her psychiatrist, Dr. Nash, calling her with a reminder of their weekly session. 
Christine is utterly discombobulated, but when the voice tells her to look up their appointment in the diary she carries in her purse--and she proceeds to find the diary and then the notation, just as he said (“Nov. 30th, seeing Dr. Nash”)--she agrees to meet with him. (She’s rather more troubled by the second line of the note--the part she doesn’t recite to the doctor when she finds it, which reads, “Don’t tell Ben”--but keeps that to herself.) 
Dr. Nash explains that they’ve been meeting once or twice each week for the past several weeks. He’s a neuropsychologist who specializes in memory loss, and as her particular type of amnesia is extremely rare, she makes an especially-interesting subject for him to study.
And they have, it turns out, been making some progress. Dr. Nash has persuaded Christine to keep a journal; she writes in it following their sessions, then hides it away before she goes to bed at night. Dr. Nash then calls her the next day, explains all over again who he is and where her journal is, after which she rereads everything she’s already written... and by so doing, “learns” all that has gone on over the past couple of weeks (rather than just what Ben told her, yet again, before leaving for work that morning).
Much of what she reads in the journal is, of course, just a rehash of what Ben had said only an hour or two before... but not everything. As the weeks pass, she notices a few inconsistencies. Sometimes, the story Ben tells her isn’t quite the same as other times. And every once in awhile, he lets something slip, answering a question he typically sidesteps--something which he doesn’t have to worry about beyond the next few hours, since he knows she won’t remember it past falling asleep that night. (That would still be the case, too, were it not for her secret journal... and the fact that some of her memories are, very gradually, starting to come back to her.) 
But, it’s only when she digs out her journal one morning following Dr. Nash’s call and finds the words “DON’T TRUST BEN” written in bold letters in her handwriting, that she’s truly frightened. It was one thing to keep the sessions a secret, but why isn’t she supposed to trust him, this man who is devoted to her and has stood by her through so much? Why has he lied about certain things--to protect her from some incredibly-painful knowledge, which will hit her with all the force of fresh, horribly-tragic news each time he tells her... or because he’s trying to keep something hidden from her? And, what part does Dr. Nash play in everything--well-meaning doctor, callous researcher, or scoundrel with nefarious intentions?
As yet more conflicts arise between the life she lives each day, the accounts she reads in her journal, and her spotty memories that go in and out, Christine’s greatest fear is that she--and that all-important journal--will be found out before she figures out what, exactly, is going on. The one thing she’s sure of is that her life hinges on keeping that secret...
 § ~ § ~ § ~ § ~ § ~ §
Before I Go to Sleep is the rare books that works brilliantly on multiple levels. Above all, it’s chockfull of gut-clenching, heart-pounding terror; the idea that anything could happen to you, or you could be told anything, or forced to do anything--but would be completely unable to remember any of it the very next day--boggles the mind with horrible possibilities. As we watch things unfold through Christine’s eyes, figuring out only slightly more than she does, we can do naught but cringe in anticipation of what evil showdown is surely to come. 
This is also an intimate psychological portrait of a woman in crisis. Christine is a completely sympathetic character; now middle-aged, she’s no one special or famous, just a normal woman with a job and family, going through all the regular ups and downs, who finds herself suddenly, inexplicably in the middle of a horrific set of events... which she has, apparently, been in for a very long time, already. Her first-person narrative of waking up, clueless, is harrowing... and her gradual realizations and later, her regained memories, make the experience that much more chilling.
But it’s the little observations, particularly about aging, which manage to pack the surprisingly-hefty emotional wallops, here. Christine’s daily struggle with meeting her 47-year-old self--and finding it so different from the 29-year-old self she vaguely recalls, with its smoother skin, thicker hair, fewer lines, and lack of saggy anything--is particularly affecting, and the fact that she goes through it again and again? It just hurts.
I really hated putting Before I Go to Sleep down. I hated putting it down to go do some actual work, I hated setting it aside when my eyes refused to stay open any longer (regardless how much caffeine I was pumping in my system)... and I hated reaching the last page, when the journey came to an end. This one’s a Must-Read, folks.


GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Mousies!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Affairs, Brawls, & Crimes... This Ain't Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

What do any of us really know about our neighbors... or more to the point, what do we think we know about them? This is a question I’ve had (alarming) reason to consider recently, and the answer, I fear, is that we don’t know very much, at all.
It wasn’t always like this; in the past, people tended to stay in one place longer, which gave them more opportunity (and reason) to get to know their neighbors better. That's all changed over the last half-century, though; we’re constantly on the move, and the bulk of our communications occur electronically. All those getting-to-know-you cliches (which I'm only familiar with from Classic TV) like summer block parties, visits from Welcome Wagon ladies bearing casseroles and cakes, and cozy afternoon coffee klatsches are now just quaint relics of a bygone era. As for borrowing a cup of sugar (a couple of eggs, milk, whatever) from the near-total stranger down the hall (or across the street)? Not only is that a totally foreign concept to us, but it's a whole lot of iffy when it comes to safety concerns.
What we're forced to rely upon, then--instead of any first-hand knowledge--is a bunch of assumptions and impressions based solely on casual observations (and precious little in the way of meaningful personal contact). So it's really no wonder we’re surprised or even shocked when we happen to find out what actually goes on behind our neighbors’ closed doors... as is the case with a small group of neighbors in Ruth Rendell’s latest psychological thriller, Tigerlily’s Orchids.
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It’s easy enough for those of us who’ve never been part of a close-knit community to move in somewhere and adhere to the correct degree of polite friendliness (a nod hello in the hallway or on the street) while maintaining the appropriate distance (not venturing into someone else’s personal space or yard). Things are considerably more difficult for someone used to a lot of contact with those around him, though, because the desire for connection is strong.
Twenty-something Stuart Font has been living in his Litchfield House flat in London for several months, when it occurs to him that he knows next to nothing about any of his neighbors. (Not, mind you, that he fancies any of them to be particularly fascinating; it’s just that he grew up attending parties and, well, knowing people, and finds himself missing the interaction.) The only thing for it, he decides, is to host a housewarming party (for himself), a meet-&-greet set to cool music and fueled by copious amounts of alcohol and chichi hors d'oeurves. (Contributing to his sudden yen for bonhomie is the fact that he's currently jobless--by choice--and, aside from semi-regular assignations with Claudia, his married paramour, finds himself in the undesirable position of being bored and lonely.) So, he proceeds to invite all the other residents of the building, as well as the neighbors across the street and to either side.
As far as Stuart--an uncommonly handsome young man (and preternaturally aware of that fact, if we're being honest, here)--is concerned, the guest list (which he’s only able to assemble after perusing the names on the mail slots, because it isn't as though he's ever really wanted to know these people before) is sorely lacking. There’s the middle-aged woman, Ms. Rose Preston-Jones--a New-Agey vegan who works as an alternative healer--sharing Flat 2 with her little dog, McPhee. Flat 3 is occupied by a fussy, middle-aged teacher (Marius Potter), who divines things from passages out of “Paradise Lost” in his spare time. A married couple by the name of Constantine--Michael a doctor and Katie a writer--occupy Flat 4. Flat 5 is home to the three silly young college girls--Noor Lateef, a pretty Indian girl; Sophie Longwich, a sort of plain, mousy girl; and the one he calls “the fat girl” (because she’s a stone or so over his “ideal”), Molly Flint. The final apartment--Flat 6--is inhabited by perhaps the most intriguing (or at least, the strangest) of his fellow Litchfield House residents--Ms. Olwen Curtis, a retired woman whose answer to every question is “Not really,” and who stumbles around 24/7, reeking of gin or vodka. 
Next to and across from Litchfield House, Stuart invites couples Jock and Kathy Pember, and Ken Lee and Moira Jones, as well as Duncan Yeardon, an elderly man puttering around by himself in a three-story house. Next-door to Duncan is an Asian family about which Stuart isn’t entirely certain how or if to invite, as there seems to be an older man and a handful of young adults, possibly (or not) related. (One of the females is, however, of especial interest to him--a beautiful young woman whom Stuart thinks may actually be his equal in the good-looks department.) He also toys with the idea of inviting the coarse building porter (Wally Scurlock) and his blowzy wife, but concludes that that really isn’t necessary.
Other main characters (though not on Stuart's guest list) include Freddy Livorno (the cuckolded chap married to Stuart’s mistress), some local shop owners, a couple of the college girls’ boyfriends, and Stuart’s mother (a doting woman now growing weary of her beautiful son's indolent ways).  
And then, there is us to consider, for we readers have a role to play, too; we're virtual voyeurs, gleaning whatever tidbits we can from the biased observations made by each character... separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were, then trying to ascertain wherein the true nature of each character actually lies (since we're the only ones with access to everyone’s perceptions and actions).
But back to the party (which is, in truth, but a very small portion of the story). It is actually the preparations for the party--but even more so, the aftermath of what happens during that one fateful night--which set the tone and propel the action for the rest of this twisted tale of randomly-intersecting lives. [No, I really can't tell you what happens at the party, and I certainly can't tell you what happens after that. Suffice it so say that it's the culmination of several perfectly-ordinary acts--combined with a few rather-more-extraordinary ones--which will have you waiting with baited breath for each of the many axes to fall.]
One thing's for certain; following Stuart’s bash, the neighborhood will never be quite the same again.
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As is generally the case with a work penned by the über-prolific Ruth Rendell (who also writes as Barbara Vine), the devil is in the smallest of details in Tigerlily’s Orchids... and only becomes apparent once the (seemingly) most-insignificant of them are considered and put into proper context. And what a lot of details there are, here, as we flit from one neighbor to the next, spying on the actions and thoughts of each. (Sound exhausting? Don't worry, it's not. In fact, it’s just the opposite--wonderfully exhilarating, waiting and watching from the relative safety of the sidelines as things inevitably take their course.) There's genuine pathos--most notably in the plight of Olwen Curtis, whose goal is to (literally) drink herself to death. There's a fair amount of humor, too, as Rendell repeatedly skewers how each character sees him-/herself.

Besides offering these deliciously-naughty peeks into such outwardly-normal(ish) lives, Rendell also paints a poignant picture of a modern neighborhood trying to survive, illustrating how the realities of tough economic times have such profound impacts on the lives of residents and business owners alike. 

With a splendidly-eccentric cast which includes star-crossed lovers, ethically-challenged professionals, a sexual deviant, a lonely busybody, multiple thieves, a host of enablers, several criminals, a desperately-unhappy victim, a couple of incredibly vain and self-centered individuals, someone with a death wish, and at least one murderer, this microcosm of a modern neighborhood has a little bit of everything. And the realization that these could very well be my neighbors, or yours, is what makes this tantalizing tale so fabulously chilling.
 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Mousies!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Some Secrets are Better Left Unknown


Belonging... that sense of security we get from being included in something. We always have a need for it and, whether the end goal is being allowed to hang with the “cool kids”, getting to spend time with that dream guy or girl, or gaining admission to a prestigious club, our reasons for desiring it are much the same: we’ll be better/happier/more successful than we are now, if only we can manage to fit in. If we can belong.
Not every group requires that sort of overt acceptance. Take, for instance, family. There’s seldom any shortage of angst or aggro among relatives, but those problems typically stem from issues other than any question of belonging. Whether we like it or not, sharing space on a family tree means we’re automatically part of the group. 
To someone who’s adopted, though, the situation isn’t quite so cut and dried, because familial belonging involves more than just so many years of common experiences or time spent living under the same roof. The question of identity goes deeper than the rhetorical “Who am I?” (asked at one time or another by pretty much everyone); adoptees also find themselves wondering, “Where did I come from?”.
There are no easy answers, of course--not for anyone. But sometimes, we’d be better off not asking the questions, at all... a case Chevy Stevens makes in her latest thriller, Never Knowing.
§ - § - § - § - § - § - § 
Sara Gallagher is a typical young woman, dealing with an imperfect life. In her early thirties, she owns the house which she shares with six-year-old daughter Ally (from a previous relationship) and their beloved French bulldog, Moose; she runs a successful small business (repairing and restoring old furniture); and, she has--at long last--found a guy who really seems worth all the effort involved in settling down.
Not everything is so peachy, though. Sara has plenty of issues to deal with... hence the weekly visits to her therapist, where she can discuss her obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the episodes of paranoia, the panic attacks, and her anger-management problems (which occasionally culminate in violence).
Then there’s her family situation, which is a total mess. As the elder sister--who was adopted before either of her two natural-born sisters came along--Sara has long dealt with being treated differently. Although her adoptive mother has always tried to smooth things over, she can only do so much to counteract her husband’s obvious dislike of and disappointment with Sara... and their behaviors are repeated in how the other two daughters treat Sara, as well.
It comes as no big surprise, then, that Sara grew up dreaming of her “real” parents, fantasizing about a fabulous couple who were forced to give her up... but who will surely return to swoop her up into their happy family someday. Even now, at thirty-three, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s meant to find them.
So, after going through an especially rough patch with her family, Sara decides to start the wheels turning to find her birth mother. She fills out the paperwork, submits it, then waits--anxiously wondering what she’ll find.
When the report arrives, it’s incomplete; she has a name--Julia Laroche--and number for her birth mother, but the spot for the father’s info is blank. Still, it’s more info than she’s ever had, so, after marshaling her courage, she dials the number... only to be told in no uncertain terms that she is never to call again.
She’s crushed, of course. She mopes and feels sorry for herself, but eventually bucks up once more, telling herself she has nothing to lose. And, a couple of long car trips (and the services of one private eye) later, finds Sara meeting Julia, face-to-face... and learning a truth more awful than anything out of one of her worst nightmares.
Julia, it turns out, is the sole survivor of a sadistic serial killer--a man who has plagued the wilds of Canada for almost thirty-five years. Unlike all the other young women the so-called Campsite Killer has targeted, though, her mother got away--but not without suffering, first. Before she escaped the madman, Julia was raped... and Sara is the (very-unwanted) product of that horrifying act.
When news of Julia’s whereabouts (she had changed her name and moved following the initial attack and all the press which followed) is somehow leaked--with Sara being linked to Julia (and to the infamous killer)--and posted all over the internet, all hell breaks loose. Her family is shocked and angry--over things that aren’t remotely her fault. Her fiancé is upset, because he didn’t want her to pursue finding her birth parents, in the first place. 
The very worst part, though, is what Sara now fears most--that her daughter Ally’s existence will become common knowledge, too... and that the boogeyman will be coming for them.
It soon becomes clear that a reunion with the family he never knew about is precisely what Daddy Dearest has in mind... and that Sara is far more like this man with whom she shares DNA than she is different from him.
§ - § - § - § - § - § - §
Stevens employs a little gimmick for telling the story: it unfolds through a series of transcripts from each of Sara’s sessions with her therapist. (Sara is the only one speaking in the transcripts, so it’s still primarily first-person--except for when she directs comments or thoughts to her therapist.) Stevens used the same formula to very good effect in her first book (Still Missing, reviewed here), and so far, it’s working for her.
There’s much to like in Never Knowing. It builds--and maintains--a high level of suspense throughout. The basic premise--the shock of finding out you’re the child of a brutal serial killer--is novel; it hasn’t been done to death already. It’s genuinely chilling, seeing how easy it is for the killer to contact her, and for him to elude capture. And, Stevens provides an excellent feel for place that really adds to the story; the vastness of British Columbia--and the remoteness of so much of it--contribute to the mounting terror.  
Knowing that Sara’s trying to cope with some genuine mental health issues (both before and after finding out about her biological father) adds yet another interesting layer. (Note that the book doesn’t delve into any actual therapy; it just gives a sense of how someone with stuff to work through might deal with being put in an untenable situation.)  
But, there are also some sticking points for me. Sara’s stubbornness--her (frankly)obnoxious and selfish insistence on hounding a woman who clearly doesn’t want to get to know her (regardless of the reason)--rankles with me. (I know, I know--there wouldn’t have been much of a story if she hadn’t forced her way into Julia’s life... but still.) I don’t completely buy the relationship between Sara and her fiancé, either; it feels a bit thin. Finally, the whole thing would have benefitted by being pared down a hundred or so pages; even though the tension is maintained, some passages get a mite repetitious.
Overall, Never Knowing is a bit of a mixed bag... but it’s definitely an interesting take on a serial killer tale, and well worth reading for fans of psychological suspense.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 3.25 out of 5 Mousies