Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: She's Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel

Title: She’s Never Coming Back
Author: Hans Koppel
Publisher: Sphere (Hachette India)
Pages: 393
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I don’t favour fiction these days but I like thrillers, especially after you have read some heavy-duty stuff or taken ages to finish a book, it feels good to pick up a fast-paced thriller.

‘She’s Never Coming Back’ is every bit a fast-paced thriller. I finished it in 2 days with my limited reading time (owing to my little one). But this book is a little different than the usual crime thrillers – good different, that is!

Here’s a little outline of the story. Ylva Zetterberg, a mother and wife, leaves office for home but never reaches. Her husband, Mike, assumes she is out with office colleagues, and keeps speculating about possibilities of why she might not have reached home, even when she does not turn up the next day. Ylva is a compulsive flirt and has had a fling before. When Ylva does not reaches home in the evening the first day, Mike is reluctant to call her so as not be accused of distrust by her. But when he is unable to reach her or get much information from her best friend at office, Mike reports her absence to police. In the wake of the brewing issues between Ylva and him, Mike becomes primary suspect for the police.

Meanwhile, Ylva has been kidnapped by her new next-door neighbours, Gosta and Marianne; who were known to her from before. She is also subjected to extreme sexual violence at their hands. She gets to see her husband and daughter on a screen, through a camera directed towards her home’s entrance. Locked in a sound-proofed cellar, Ylva cannot be heard outside, despite the fact that she is about 100 yards from her house.

The premise was very, very interesting and promising but I felt there were some weak links to the book.

First of all, the information on the back cover of the book is a little misleading. I think on reading it what comes out is that Ylva is a loving mother and wife from a happy, close-knit family, and she suddenly goes missing. Her husband is distraught and hysterical on her disappearance. On the top of it, he becomes the prime suspect which is heart-breaking for him. The camera shows Ylva the activities around her house and she is pained to see her loving husband and daughter, the way things progress in the days to come, how slowly Mike and Sanna start moving on, so on and so forth.

I might be giving away tiny bit about the story from here on but not really a spoiler. Ylva and Mike was not an ideal couple. Mike suffered from low self-esteem and is emotionally unstable, while Ylva is outgoing and a big-time flirt. As a consequence, there is a lot of friction between them. The book fails to draw out their characters well enough. We fail to connect with either Ylva or Mike. In fact, even as a victim, Ylva does not gets our sympathy because we don’t know her well. There is not much on what goes on inside her mind.

On another end, Jorgen Petersson, who has suddenly made a lot of money, reminisces about his school life and a bunch of bullies and is curious about what would have become of them over the years. He, along with his school friend, Calle Collin, a freelance journalist, start finding out about ‘the gang of four’. There is no justification to this angle, sheer coincidence. It is really not explained why Petersson is keen on finding those bullies from his past, and also how he finds any connection in what happens to each one of them.

The characters have not been drawn out too well. The relationship between them is also sketchy. We roughly know the state of affairs between Mike and Ylva, but we don’t know about the relationship between Ylva and Sanna or Ylva and Nour. When Ylva looks at her family on the screen for weeks, then months, then for over a year; we don’t know what she thinks, what goes on in her mind to see them getting back to normalcy. There is no insight into what goes on in the minds of all the main characters!

Another issue which disturbed me a lot was how Marianne approves her husband raping Ylva repeatedly. There is a bit of envy in places, but mostly she tells Ylva that she would be used by her husband whenever he wants. We also have no knowledge about the relationship between Marianne and Gosta.

The sexual assault on Ylva is also unnecessarily graphic, even repulsive.

In the beginning, Gosta is shown to be giving power point presentation on the methods used by perpetrators to control their victims. Each of those techniques has been explained in the beginning of several chapters dealing with Ylva and her captors. It is interesting and yet at some point, all this also looks like a case study.     

I have surprisingly rued about a lot of things and yet I loved reading the book. What stand out are the plot, the pace and the ending. The book is absolutely unputdownable. The ending absolutely lives upto the high the book creates. All the issues start coming out only in retrospect, they do not impact the pace or the story. When you read the book, you don’t really feel much amiss. You may absolutely love the book if you do not dwell too much into the things I mentioned.

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  1. This book looks to be very entertaining and engrossing! Keen to know as to why she was kidnapped and what happens in the end and all about it... will definitely check it out and have added it in the Must-Read-List! :)

  2. If you love crime thrillers, this one is for you :-) but I do apologise for a long review. It did not look so long when I had written it!