Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: psychological thriller, suspense, thriller
Published by Park Row on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Meet Chloe Sevre. She’s a freshman honor student, a leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her.
Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths—students like herself who lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements.
When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.
Never Saw Me Coming is a compulsive, voice-driven thriller by an exciting new voice in fiction, that will keep you pinned to the page and rooting for a would-be killer.
The collective noun for a group of psychopaths is a sling. It’s a necessary bit of trivia for this story, because the fictional DC-based John Adams University has given full-ride scholarships to seven students who have been officially diagnosed as psychopaths.
In other words, there’s a sling of psychopaths at John Adams, and it looks like one of them is bent on killing the other six. Because, after all, that’s what psychopaths are best known for in the popular imagination – being serial killers. So just as the saying goes that it takes a thief to catch a thief, it seems as if it takes a psychopath to knock off a sling of psychopaths.
But just as psychopaths are lacking empathy for others, it would seem like a story about one psychopath killing several others would not contain many, well, empathetic characters. So it’s more than a bit of a surprise for the reader to find themselves not just following the point of view of several members of the group, but feeling for them, more than they feel for each other, if not for themselves.
That is part of why they are there, or at least why they got those full-rides. They are part of a study, conducted by a respected psychologist who studies, naturally, psychopaths, to see if there are ways that psychopaths can work their way around their lack of empathy, compassion and even conscience in order to live relatively normal lives.
Something that obviously won’t happen if one of their number bumps off the rest in this multidimensional cat and mouse game where ALL the participants believe that they are the cats – only to discover they were the mice after all.
Escape Rating B+: This book, like Local Woman Missing a few months ago, is a book I picked up because it was recommended by someone in my reading group. I don’t read a ton of thrillers and this sounded interesting.
I’ll admit to having a strange reaction to this one as compared to Local Woman Missing, in that I liked this book more even though I recognize that Local Woman Missing was a better book of this type. There was just a bit too much domestic in that domestic thriller to really wow me, even though I’m pretty certain that domestic thriller readers – who are legion – will probably adore it.
What made this work for me is that in spite of all the main characters being psychopaths, they still turned out to be sympathetic characters in their own slightly twisted ways.
We follow three of the students in the study, Andre, Charles and Chloe. They are all unreliable narrators, some of which is down to their diagnoses, but quite a bit of which is simply because they are young and still a bit naïve and filled with a bit too much bravado. While it’s possible that time will fix some of those issues and turn them into more successful psychopaths, at the moment they are still young and still have some seriously dumb moments in spite of their intelligence.
It probably helps that the only murder we see committed by the three students we are following is Chloe’s murder of the guy who raped her when she was 12, while his friend recorded the rape on his cellphone. She wants the cellphone, and she wants her rapist dead. She knows she’ll get no justice any other way. And even if the reader decries her methods, it’s hard to dispute that the dude earned some serious punishments. (After all, there are a lot of books where delivering just this kind of justice to a rapist would be the entire book.)
As meticulous as Chloe’s plan is to get her revenge, she gets thrown more than a bit off the tracks when first one student and then a second one in their tiny group of seven are murdered. That’s when Andre, Charles and Chloe form their little circle of untrusting trust. Because they know that people like them lie like they’re breathing. They can’t trust each other.
So they maneuver, and lie, and scheme. Whatever they tell each other, they’re always holding something back. And even when they do reveal some of the truth, it’s filtered through their flawed ability to read and empathize with other people.
And that’s just as true of Andre as it is of Chloe and Charles, even though Andre faked his diagnosis to keep the scholarship. Because he’s maintaining that lie at all costs. Which may make his diagnosis as true as either of theirs.
The other thing that made this story work is that the reader can empathize with the characters without necessarily liking them. Because they’re not all that likeable. Andre is gaming the system, Chloe reads as if she’s likely to become a version of Harley Quinn, and Charles is on his way to becoming the kind of amoral conservative politician that we see all too often these days.
(Would it surprise anyone if entirely too many politicians were secretly psychopaths? Really?)
In the end, they’re all scared and young and dumb, because they all believed they were smarter than the hunter they thought they were hunting, and because none of them could get past the lies they told themselves to uncover the killer they never did see coming – even if the reader does. Watching the trap tighten around them all makes for one hell of a thrill-ride of a story.