NEVER COMING BACK
By Hans Koppel
Translated by Kari Dickson
Pegasus Crime, November 2012 ($25.95)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
Coming home from work, a woman is abducted off the streets of the out-of-the-way community of Helsingborg, Sweden. There is nothing special about her. Her name is Ylva Zetterberg. Her husband's name is Mike. They have an eight-year-old daughter Sanna. But we learn that Ylva's abduction is not random, and the repeated sexual violence she suffers is coldly calculated to punish her. She is raped and made to perform menial tasks like a slave. A strange twist is added by her tormentors. A TV monitor is installed in her basement prison that shows a view of the front of Ylva's house. She can watch her husband and daughter come and go.
At first, when Ylva doesn't come home from work, Mike is irritated that she didn't call to let him know she wasn't coming home for supper. But he hesitates to call her cell phone. A year ago Ylva had an affair with one of her clients. When Mike confronted her with her adultery, she threatened to leave him if he ever raises this again. Fearing that she would carry out her threat, he humiliates himself by giving into her demand. Finally he rationalizes to himself that he isn't calling to check up on her. He is simply concerned, to make sure things were OK and to insist she take a taxi home. But when Ylva doesn't come home and she doesn't show up for work the next day, Mike begins to fear for the worst.
Time is lost as Mike wrestles with his fear of upsetting his wife — she being angry that she can't have time for herself — and his worry something bad has happened to her. Sanna keeps asking Mike when mom is coming home. Mike puts up a pleasant front so as not to worry Sanna, but after calling at Ylva's work with no results decides to go to the police. Things go from bad to worse for Mike. The official investigation quickly reaches a dead end. Soon the two plodding police detectives consider Mike the prime suspect in Ylva's possible murder.
All this forces Mike to face how unstable is his "normal" marriage and family life. He clings to his daughter Sanna and the mundane routine of middle-class life: school, work, shopping, cooking, watching DVDs, a birthday party. Mike seeks professional help and starts to rebuild his self-esteem with the help of a psychologist and with the help of one of Ylva's female co-workers.
What I liked about Hans Koppel's story is that it doesn't follow the usual plot of a woman-in-peril story. In such a story, Mike Zetterberg would rise to the occasion and against all odds and no help from the official police, discover the truth of his wife's abduction and after narrow escapes and life-threatening struggles, save Ylva. In fact, for most of the book Mike is swept along by events and grasping for a lifeline. I found the best part of the book is Mike's struggle to rebuild his emotional life from a dysfunctional marriage and his own self-esteem issues. This makes for an interesting plot twist, and, I think, redeems the book from the charge of being thinly disguised pornography.
I also liked the refreshing way Koppel used the secondary characters of Jörgen Petersson, who made millions with an Internet company, and Calle Collin, a freelance journalist for the weeklies and Jörgen's closest friend. The author makes the point, particularly with the Jörgen character, that we never outgrow our childhood insecurities and school experiences. The recent deaths of his old classmates is an excuse for Jörgen to hunt up his old yearbook. Little do he and his classmate Calle know that their year book holds the answer to a series of mysterious deaths and Ylva's abduction. Through Jörgen and Calle, the author plays with the concepts of right and wrong, of revenge and justice. But the author leaves any moral judgment till the very end for the readers to decide for themselves.
Though NEVER COMING BACK is fiction, I recommend the book for those who like the more graphic true-crime books and want a change from the Scandinavian crime writers like Jo Nesbų's Harry Hole, Arnaldur IndriŠason's Detective Inspector Erlendur, and Henning Mankell's Detective Kurt Wallander. It is a quick read: the book is relatively short, and Koppel's expert plotting and spare prose makes this a page-turner.
Be warned, there are strong passages of violence and sexual abuse in NEVER COMING BACK that would be a hard R rating if this was a movie.
This book is scheduled for release on November 14, 2012. You may pre-order it now from your favorite online book source.
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