"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.