Chevy Stevens made quite a splash in 2010 with STILL MISSING, a debut that broke a few narrative rules, which enhanced the telling of the story in a memorable way. She continues this practice in NEVER KNOWING, a psychological study that is part thriller, part romance and part mystery.
"STILL MISSING was one of the smartest thrillers of 2010, and NEVER KNOWING repeats that performance in a much different way."
Stevens’s second novel bears some similarity to her first, but is quite different in subject matter. The narrative is in the form of transcribed patient monologues that take place in a therapist’s office in real time, so the story unfolds from session to session, relating what has happened since the last appointment. The patient in question is Sara Gallagher, a woman with a good life on the surface. She makes a living restoring antiques and is engaged to Evan, part hippie and part businessman, who runs a successful wildlife lodge. He provides a steady balance to the lives of Sara and her six-year-old daughter, Ally.
But Sara’s life has been quite turbulent. She was adopted as an infant, and her parents subsequently gave birth to two more daughters. While her adoptive mother provided her with unconditional love, Sara had the sense that her father, an extremely domineering individual who continues to exercise control over his daughters’ lives, regretted the adoption and still does. In an effort to get a sense of who she is, Sara seeks out her birth mother. She finds her, but is coldly rejected by the woman, a university professor who is living a quiet and otherwise anonymous life.
Hurt but undaunted, Sara retains a private investigator who uncovers a terrifying truth. Her biological father is a serial murderer known as the Campsite Killer, who has been operating in the British Columbia area for nearly three decades. Sara is horrified; she has had some concerns over the years with anger management and is afraid that it’s a legacy from her notorious father.
Things go spinning wildly out of control when a website reports Sara’s relationship to the Campsite Killer. It’s not long before the man who identifies himself only as “John” contacts her, wanting to meet the daughter he never knew he had. Sara calls the police, who want to set a trap for John, using her as bait to catch the killer who has eluded them for so long. The ensuing publicity reopens old wounds within Sara’s family and also threatens her relationship with Evan. He is concerned that any meeting between Sara and her father will put her in terrible danger. Additionally, Sara’s growing friendship with Billy, one-half of the police team assigned to her case, seems to be developing into an interest beyond the professional.
Sara is torn emotionally, given that she wants to do the right thing but not at the cost of endangering her daughter or her relationship with Evan. John will not be denied, as he refuses to give up on his demands to meet Sara, even as he continues the pattern of murder for which he has become notorious. Events spin toward what appears to be a simple if violent conclusion. Then more is revealed. Not everything is as it seems, and by the end of NEVER KNOWING, all is changed and few emerge unscathed.
STILL MISSING was one of the smartest thrillers of 2010, and NEVER KNOWING repeats that performance in a much different way. Stevens chooses to eschew graphic violence for a thoughtfully layered psychological study that builds slowly toward a series of startling revelations. It’s almost impossible to guess all of what is ultimately revealed. Over the course of just two novels, Stevens has developed a reputation for smart, deep storytelling, a pattern that she no doubt will continue with subsequent novels.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 5, 2011