Tuesday, April 17, 2012

She's Never Coming Back, by Hans Koppel

Sphere, 2011 (UK)
originally published as Kommer aldrig mer igen,2011
translated by Kari Dickson
393 pp
(trade paper ed)

In She's Never Coming Back, an old crime sparks a vendetta against four people in the present.  The parents of a girl who went through an unspeakable crimeordeal as a teen want their revenge years after something terrible happens to their daughter and they'll go to any length to get it.  One of their targets is Ylva Zetterberg, who is married to Mike with whom she has a daughter named Sanna. After work one day, Ylva is offered a ride, accepts, and is never seen by friends and loved ones again.  Mike doesn't call the police immediately, since he and Ylva have an ongoing thing about her freedom; he's thinking she went out with friends and wasn't paying attention to the time.  But when it becomes obvious that she's really gone, seemingly vanished without a trace, Mike contacts the authorities, who begin to suspect that Ylva is the victim of foul play and that Mike is behind it.

Little does anyone know (and this is not a spoiler -- it's on the book blurb) that Ylva is actually just across the street from her house, being held prisoner in the cellar.  The owners of the home had recently had the house modified, putting up soundproof walls and a living space in the basement.  And now this is Ylva's space, where she's locked in, subjected to random rapes by her captor as well as other degrading humiliations. The worst part is that she is able to see what's going on at her house across the road, since her kidnappers have installed a camera on the outside of the house.

The police are worthless in this investigation; they've already made up their minds that Mike has done away with Ylva. But when the prosecutor eventually closes the case, there's nothing they can do.  In the meantime, a couple of men who were at Ylva's school at the time of the incident -- one now a journalist, one a lucky businessman who sold his share of a company and made millions -- start noticing a pattern about the deaths of their school friends who've recently died and start their own investigation.

The revenge premise is good, and there are other positives about this book -- the ending, for example, where the horrific crime of Ylva's school days is replayed and the reader is left wondering about Ylva's ambiguous morality; there are also a few good scenes with Mike and his daughter as they try to pick up after such a hole has been left in their lives. I also tend to like stories dealing with revenge.  But I have to say that I wasn't overly thrilled with this novel as a whole -- the basement captive routine is not new (the addition of the camera, though ...now,  that was different);  the characters were sort of cardboard cutouts with not a lot of depth, and the same is true for the writing -- very light and a bit shallow for a novel where such terrible things are going on.  Plus, while I get Ylva's degradation routine as a vehicle for breaking her spirit, the forced sex is way too much in this book. I'm not a prude but jeez!  Enough already.  And as someone who thrives on the road to a solution in a crime novel, this one just didn't perk my interest. It came very late, sort of halfheartedly outlined and I didn't find it credible.

There are several reviewers who liked this book, so perhaps it's just me -- but let's just say it wasn't one of my favorite novels for the year.  You can find a positive review here at The Newtown Review of Books, and also at Book After Book.  For another point of view, check out Karen's review at Austcrimefiction.

Read at your own risk, seriously. 


  1. I hated the idea of reading this book, as I really dislike "woman locked in basement being attacked and assaulted by kidnapper" theme (with of course the "excuse" that she isn't a nice person so she deserves it. WRONG). As the Independent review headline said: "When you can't sink any lower, there is always the basement". Some time after this decision, I happened to see the book in my local library so flipped through it. It seemed to be written at the reading level of a 5 year old! (I note that the author has previously written children's books). Based on what I read on a 5-minute skim, I am very glad I didn't read the whole thing.

    I know a couple of people who have read it and have not been impressed. Karen Meek's review at Euro Crime is not positive.

  2. The woman in the basement thing has been done to death. Really. I'm glad it's not just me.

  3. Nancy - Thank you for confirming what I suspected: this isn't a book for me. As you say, the theme's been done to death and like you, I don't go for the repeated forced sex. I'm also not one for the "cops are too bull-headed and too incompetent to suspect anyone but the spouse" theme. Most cops at least try to be open to other possibilities. Nope. Not going to read this one.

    1. Margot: No problem. I really really wanted to like it, but I just couldn't.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it