Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Never Knowing
"I have that information you were looking for." The friendly grandfather tone was gone, replaced by serious cop.

"Do I want to know?" I laughed. He didn't.

"You were right, Julia Laroche isn't her real name -- it's Karen Christianson."

"That's interesting. Do you know why she changed it?"

"You don't recognize the name?"

"Should I?"

"Karen Christianson was the only survivor of the Campsite Killer."

Sara Gallagher was adopted as a baby, by foster parents who couldn't conceive. But then her foster mom soon gave birth to two girls, who have been the apple of their father's eyes ever since. Her foster dad never showed any affection towards Sara, and was always ridiculing or scolding her even for no fault of hers. This contributed to her increasing curiosity about her birth parents, forever wishing for them to come and rescue her. Her foster parents weren't cruel - her mom absolutely loved her, and her dad was just extra strict with her. Still right now, Sara's life is going great - her wedding is just around the corner and she and her fiance, Evan, have a happy life with Sara's daughter. But then she thinks she is ready to meet her real parents and that decision catapults her whole life as she knows it - her birth mother is the only known survivor of the Campsite Killer, who might as well have been her birth father. Are killer genes hereditary?

Last year, I read Still Missing by the same author and found that the whole ride through the novel was thrilling. It was the kind of book that you just couldn't abandon for trivial things like sleep and dinner. And although I had mixed reactions to this book after completing it, I liked this kind of book - where each chapter starts rather than ends with suspense, where there are no words wasted in superficial descriptions (this is after all not a literary novel and I don't care how lush green the grass was or how mellow her voice was when there was a humongous mystery to be solved), and which I could read anytime anywhere. Still Missing however suffered from a weak ending and some outlandish twists that only served to make the whole suspense unbelievable. Moreover, it left open several questions that just didn't seem to connect any missing dots.

Never Knowing, Chevy Stevens' second novel, avoids making the same mistakes again, for the most part. This time, I found the ending decent. I didn't like the way the protagonist's fears about her aggressive personality was neatly eased with a bow at the end. It didn't look to me an issue that one can easily get closure from. But I appreciated the belief quotient of the mystery. What boggled me was how even with modern technology, the police couldn't track the killer when he kept phoning Sara. The first few reasons the police gave I could excuse, but after that it became quite a joke. Here was a killer still on the loose after 35+ years, who was still succeeding in fooling the police. Moreover, as Sara noted once, there didn't seem to be much police resources dedicated to the case, whatever the two main officers on the case may say.

As with Still Missing, there are actually two mysteries in this book. I wasn't surprised by that, in fact I was waiting to see when the second one would be revealed because it was a little too obvious to me. Again, I didn't see a reason why we needed two bad people. I hope this isn't going to be a trend with her novels. Although the killer's background and psychology are somewhat explored, I still found it lacking. There is at least more understanding of the killer here, but still insufficient. I love it that Chevy Stevens creates these compelling killers who appear to be caring but have serious issues with relationships, temper control and warped solutions to their problems. But I wish there were more psychological explanations of such psychopaths, rather than just a they-just-were approach.

The book made me ponder over the question of how similar we could be to our parents. It is not the same having a parent who is obsessed with organization as having one who rapes and murders people. Turning out to be the same as the former parent can be slightly annoying but one can live with it. But how does one know that the latter parent's murderous tendencies aren't lying dormant in one's own genes? The protagonist is understandably worried about what this knowledge means - she has once pushed a person down the stairs and moreover, her daughter is also struggling to control her temper. While the author somewhat explores this realm, I thought she could have gone in a little farther. After all, as with Still Missing, the protagonist of Never Knowing is also seeing a psychologist (in fact, the same one - Nadine). But, most of the focus was on Sara's eventful life, as some of her relationships take a hit, than on her own fears about what this means. Okay, maybe she had a lot going on in her life, but still I would have loved to see some more psychological impacts. 

I know I mostly compared Never Knowing with Still Missing, rather than reviewing it as an independent work, but that's because I felt the books were very similar except in plot. This is just as fast-paced and edge-of-the-seat-thrilling as Still Missing. Each chapter is a session that the protagonist shares with her psychologist. Although the novel is totally in first-person, so we never read the psychologist's advice or opinions, Sara occasionally refers to them in her narration. And although I didn't love this book much, I did find it hard to put down and will look forward to Chevy Stevens' next book.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

15 comments:

Misha said...

I really enjoyed Still Missing despite some issues. I am glad to hear that Never Knowing is as thrilling as the author's previous book.  Like you, I don't like neatly wrapped up endings - it's good that as compared to Still Missing, this is a little more believable. Despite the flaws, I will be looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review!

Lena said...

Great review. This book sounds interesting with child adopted and then the adoptive parents have kids of their own, which I'm sure created some discontent. I would love to see how the story unfold with the biological mother.

Giving Reading said...

Great review! Oh well, I am really kind of thinking about the question you pose here - ' But how does one know that the latter parent's murderous tendencies aren't lying dormant in one's own genes?'  - I just don't know how I would live with that and what kind of effect it would have on my life.I am glad despite the issues, you enjoyed this one. I really wanted to read Still Missing and now I am adding this to my wishlist.

Athira / Aths said...

I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of it. I agree that despite flaws, both are books that are very enjoyable.

Athira / Aths said...

That IS a touchy matter! I felt sad for the protagonist but she also turned to be slightly whiny, going on about how her dad didn't love her. It was a hard thing on her, but she was being biased as well and not looking at how her sisters were being treated by their father.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree, I tried to accept that police approach, but this was a 35 year old case, involving a man who has been murdering at least one person but most often two, every summer. That's a minimum of 35, I guess. I would imagine the police would figuratively camp in this town just to catch the criminal. My assumption is they probably did - the detectives on the case stated as much - it just wasn't felt. Oh, I know, this is such a minor gripe!

Athira / Aths said...

Both books were definitely engaging and compelling. Hard to put down. So I do hope you get to read them. There are issues, but even with them, this book is intriguing. I will be looking forward to your thoughts.

Helen Murdoch said...

I haven't read either of these, but they sound so interesting. Do you think I'd get creeped out by them?

Athira / Aths said...

Probably not by Never Knowing. Still Missing has some not-really-creepy but some nauseating/queasy stuff. I don't know how best to describe that, but you will not lose sleep over it.

zibilee said...

I really enjoyed Still Missing, and though there were some outlandish bits, overall, it was a book that I had trouble putting down. I have heard that this book uses some of the same plot elements, namely the psychiatrist angle, but from what I hear, it's still a pretty good read. It's almost like Stevens has a formula already, which is funny since she only has two books out so far. I am glad to hear that this one kept you captivated, but sorry to hear that it wasn't a favorite. I will have to let you know what I think of it when I am done.

Athira / Aths said...

Yeah, the plot elements are pretty much the same. Psychiatrist, Session-like chapters, psychopath-like killer, twin mysteries, etc. I am eager to hear what you think of this book. It is funny that Stevens already has a formula.

c b said...

I finished this recently. Haven't reviewed yet. An okay read for me, as it got a little predictable like you said as you know it's not as simple as that... I don't remember details of Still Missing to compare the two like you did. But I think the first book is a bit better - despite the twist seems a bit unrealistic, but it was more unexpected.

christa @ mental foodie
http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/

Athira / Aths said...

The surprise factor was definitely higher in Still Missing. I never saw that ending coming, but when it was revealed I just found it hard to believe, that's probably why I preferred this one. Of course, Never Knowing is a lot more predictable - I don't know if it's because it's the same formula or just like that.

Marce said...

I loved how you reviewed this one against Still Missing. You sealed the deal for me, this author ha 'out there thoughts' that are just not believable. I'm not sure having Nadine as known character is good or not.

My favorite genre but not my cup of tea.

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I know what you mean. I liked this one in so many ways, but it was also the same formula as the first book, so there's no novelty. I hope her next book is different.