I was a huge fan of Chevy Steven's debut novel, Still Missing, so it was with a great deal of anticipation that I checked out the audiobook of her recently published second novel, Never Knowing. The premise of this book, while somewhat far fetched, still had the potential to be intriguing. Sara Gallagher is a thirty- something single mother in the process of planning her wedding to Evan, a guy who seems almost too good to be true. Out of general curiosity as well as a desire for more information regarding her medical history, Sara, an adoptee, hires a private detective to track down her birth mother; Sara subsequently learns that she was the product of a brutal rape by the notorious "camp site killer." After information about Sara's identity as well as that of her birth mother is leaked on the Internet, presumably by the private detective looking to make a quick buck by selling this information, it is not too long before John, Sara's serial killer dad, starts calling her and looking to arrange a face to face meeting with his daughter and granddaughter. The police become involved and the tension escalates when Sara is encouraged to put herself in harm's way by arranging a meeting with John as a way to help the police flush him out. Inevitably, Evan becomes jealous because of all the time and attention being lavished on Sara by a hunky police detective.
So what went wrong?
1. Sara came across as whiny and annoying, even before she found out that her father was a serial killer. I first blamed this on the audiobook's narrator but eventually realized that she was merely amplifying a quality in Sara that was put there by the author.
2. At one point in the story, Sara's adopted father calls for a mandatory "family meeting" for all three of his adult children and their spouses or significant others - everybody shows up and nobody seems to think that it is at all strange for a parent to exert such extreme control over his adult children.
3. About a third of the way through, a three word piece of dialog from John telegraphed to me how a pivotal scene was going to play out toward the end of the novel. I'd like to think that my past year and a half of exploring crime fiction has made me a more perceptive reader, but I think in this case it was really just an example of sloppy writing.
4. I thought that Stevens' treatment of the subject of adoption relied too heavily on cliche and stereotype.
5. Has anyone ever calculated the odds of an individual encountering not one, but two psychopathic killers during the course of a few weeks? Would the odds be different because the story was set in Canada rather than the U.S.?
6. The major plot twist near the very end of the book required a very convoluted series of explanations that made my head hurt.
A few words about the narrator: Although Carrington MacDuffie did a virtuoso job of creating distinctions between the voices of the many characters, male and female, who populate this book, her portrayal of Sara sounded more like a petulant teen than an independent, self employed single mother. MacDuffie also managed to make Sara's young daughter come across as not especially likable.
Maybe Steven's third novel should be called What Happened?