She’s Never Coming Back is the story of a kidnapped wife and mother (Ylva Zetterberg). Her husband, unaware that she is being held captive across the road from her own home, reports her disappearance and naturally becomes the prime suspect in her assumed murder. As the months pass and there is no evidence to charge him, the police investigation loses momentum, the husband, Mike Zetterberg, works through his grief and bewilderment, and, believing that Ylva must be dead, gets on with his life. He falls in love with one of Ylva’s best friends and she becomes a surrogate mother to his daughter Sanna, who is gradually forgetting her own mother. None of them realises that Ylva is watching them every day through a video camera rigged up in her basement prison, one form of torture among several thought up by her abductors.
Meanwhile … two friends since schooldays meet occasionally for drinks. Jorgen Petersson is a rich developer whose fortune was founded on early IT design; his old friend, Calle Collin, is a social-pages reporter for a weekly newspaper. Petersson becomes obsessed about the fate of several of their schoolmates, particularly the so-called Gang of Four, two of whom have died in peculiar circumstances. A third has apparently died naturally and eventually Petersson finds out that the fourth, Ylva, is missing. Unlike the police, Petersson sees a disturbing pattern here. Calle isn’t convinced.
Meanwhile … a professor emeritus of psychology, Gosta Lundin, delivers a series of lectures to police and social workers on the nature of victimization, offering sinister allusions to what Ylva is enduring in her long captivity.
There are several layers of interwoven stories here – what happens to Ylva and the way she is systematically abused and dehumanised; Petersson’s investigations; Lundin’s lecture series; Mike’s and Sanna’s gradual recovery from Ylva’s loss; and the kidnappers’ story. Readers learn early on who has kidnapped Ylva and we are given plenty of hints about the motive as well. It’s not a mystery story in that sense.
She’s Never Coming Back is a novel of psychological suspense; an analysis of guilt and retribution and whether redemption is possible. Ylva once actively abetted a terrible crime, she’s selfish and unfaithful, but does she deserve to be punished this harshly?
It’s a very well written book, as are most of the Scandanavian novels we are getting in translation, and the layered points of view give it depth and texture. The characters are interesting and well-drawn, although Jorgensson’s obsessive unravelling of the puzzle of his schoolmates’ deaths seems a little lacking in motivation. The trigger for his investigation – coming across an old school yearbook, is also perhaps a bit slight. The police are rather shadowy characters – not as well delineated as others; they seem to have a rather offhand approach to the central mystery and they become strangely resigned to giving up on Mike Zetterberg as a likely murderer. Unlike in other Scandinavian police procedurals, these police are more the stereotypical cops we are used to in this sub-genre, there as instruments of a different sort of plot rather than as fully rounded characters. However, the main characters are extremely believable, even when it comes to the mad craving for revenge that drives the kidnappers. The abuse they inflict on Ylva is all too convincing. The ending is highly dramatic, as well as tragic, and fulfills all the promise of the rest of the book. It was not ‘the most terrifying crime novel I have ever read’ as the quote from a reviewer reads on the cover, but it was chilling and suspenseful, which are great accomplishments given that we know both the motive and the identity of the perpetrators from quite early on. It’s a beautifully crafted, intelligent and original addition to the genre, and Hans Koppel is yet another name to add to Scandinavian writers we should look out for.
Hans Koppel She’s Never Coming Back, Sphere $19.99 PB 393pp ISBN 9780751547825
If you would like to purchase this book from Better Read Than Dead, click here.
If you would like to see if it is available through Newtown Library, click here.