“Hans Koppel” is the pseudonym for Swedish author Petter Lidbeck. If you are unfamiliar with either name, that is about to change dramatically with the publication of NEVER COMING BACK. The first in a planned trilogy (the second book has already been published in the author’s native Sweden), this is a perfectly paced, suspense-filled work that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.
Set near Stockholm, Sweden, the book begins and ends with murder. In between, there is a kidnapping, torture, rape (which becomes something else; it isn’t called “Stockholm Syndrome” for nothing), another murder, and a haphazard police investigation that goes in the wrong direction from the start. There is a motive --- revenge --- that is revealed pretty early on in the story, but the specific motive behind it is revealed in breadcrumbs dropped throughout the book until the end, when the reader is led out of the wonderful literary forest that Koppel has constructed.
"'Hans Koppel' is the pseudonym for Swedish author Petter Lidbeck. If you are unfamiliar with either name, that is about to change dramatically with the publication of NEVER COMING BACK. The first in a planned trilogy...this is a perfectly paced, suspense-filled work that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned."
However, the primary thrust of the book is the kidnapping. The victim is Ylva, wife of Mike and daughter of the precocious Sanna. Ylva and Mike are somewhat mismatched, given that she likes to flirt and play around a bit, and Mike is more of the sensitive type. Ylva’s affair with a local restaurateur almost ruined their marriage, and Mike is not quite able to let go of the feelings of betrayal left in the aftermath. When Ylva goes missing after being kidnapped on her way home from work, Mike initially thinks that she is out with friends; as she remains absent, he comes to believe that she is being unfaithful again. As her absence stretches across days, and then weeks, he slowly comes to believe that she is never coming back, unaware that she is being held against her will just a short distance from the front door of their residence. Worse, Ylva’s captors have outfitted her “cell” with a television monitor so that she can watch her husband and daughter slowly get on with their lives without her.
There are several neat twists, including a reporter who is dragged onto the trail of the truth, kicking and screaming, by a childhood friend who originally dubbed Ylva and three cohorts as the “Gang of Four” and who terrorized their school both physically and emotionally. It is a specific action of the Gang of Four that has resulted in Ylva’s present predicament, one from which she may never escape…even if she wants to.
NEVER COMING BACK is not a long book, and its short chapters --- solidly translated by Kari Dickson --- move things along quickly and surefootedly. The shortness of form, though, belies the hefty substance of the tale. Koppel tells us everything we need to know, not only about what is happening but also about what the various characters are thinking and doing. So it is that Ylva, the victim of the piece, is hardly a sympathetic character, while her antagonists are simultaneously less than either heroic or villainous.
As far as this being the first in a trilogy is concerned, rest assured that the book is totally complete in itself, and the next installment (which will see publication in the US in 2013) is linked with NEVER COMING BACK by a character whose appearance here is of minor importance. I have the feeling, though, that after flipping through the first few pages, you will want to read both books --- and the third, once it's written.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 21, 2012