CTG Interviews: Koethi Zan author of THE NEVER LIST

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Koethi Zan (c) Pieter M van Hattem

Today I’m delighted to welcome Koethi Zan, author of the fabulous psychological thriller, THE NEVER LIST, to the CTG blog.

I found THE NEVER LIST both spellbinding and chilling. Through Sarah (Caroline) the reader experiences the horror, and impact, of her ordeal in a way that feels very authentic. How did you go about researching the book?

I researched the book by reading essentially everything available about the experiences of women who have been abducted: their memoirs, trial transcripts, psychology textbooks, third party accounts and newspaper articles. I was quite submerged in it, which was a very dark and scary place to be for so long a time.  Of course, I can never know what that experience is truly like, but I feel I have developed a particular empathy for those victims, and I hope what I’ve learned comes across in the book.

For the BDSM parts of the book, I read books on the topic, but also spent a lot of time going down the internet rabbit hole of that culture.  I found myself on many shocking chat boards, websites, and blogs. At a certain point, I’d read so many disturbing accounts that I started to believe I could never be surprised by anything.  But there was always that one more site, one more story, one more image.

The idea of Sarah and Jennifer, after experiencing loss and trauma while still at school, creating their never list is fascinating. How did you get the idea for the never list, and would you call yourself a list person?

The relationship between Sarah and Jennifer is loosely based on my own relationship with my best friend.  She and I never had a formal, written list of ‘don’ts,’ but we did have a set of rules we’d follow because we were both slightly paranoid.  Perhaps not as much as my characters, but there are many shared themes in their lives and ours.

I am definitely a list person, and always have been.  I keep multiple to do lists at all times, each with different time horizons.  Otherwise the world would be too overwhelming.

What books and authors have inspired you as a reader and writer? 

Two crime fiction writers who influenced my book are quite different from one another: Patricia Highsmith, whose pacing is slow and menacing, her technique literary and psychological, and Steig Larsson, who is all action, action, action, with complex and dramatic storylines.

I started reading Highsmith years ago, and though I would not dare compare myself to her, she sparked my interest in crime fiction.  I love how she follows the progression of the criminal mind, usually making the reader complicit with the perpetrator, living out the story from his or her point of view.  For my book, I wanted to flip her formula on its head and give the victim’s perspective, so the reader would be intimately involved with the crime and its impact on the psyche, not just trying to solve the who, where and what of it.

Only in retrospect did I realize that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy had such a huge impact on my book.  On the one hand, I love his fast action and over-the-top plotting.  Anything can happen in his books as long as it propels the story along, and that’s liberating for a writer.  On the other hand, I think my approach to violence is in stark contrast to his.  I read (and love) a lot of Scandinavian fiction, and as with Larsson’s, the violence is often explicit and raw.  I believe in uncovering this dark side of humanity—I think that’s a healthy way to cope with it—but I prefer to use suggestion rather than elaborate, graphic detail.  I think that technique can be quite effective because the reader personalizes the terror, drawing on his or her own worst nightmares to fill in the blanks.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan out the story first?

I knew from early on how the book would begin, how it would end, and generally how the characters would develop.  Those elements formed the outline of the book for me, and the rest fell into place as I wrote it. I never wrote an outline.

My actual writing process was driven by necessity. When I was writing The Never List, I had one hour a day to write, from 5 am to 6 am.  After that, I had to get the kids to school and go to work.  I set myself a minimum word count of 500 a day, five days a week.  And I had an incentive plan:  if I hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off.  I kept finishing earlier an earlier each month.

Now that I’m writing full-time, I still stick to my early morning writing routine and the word count requirements.  I’m conditioned to write in the early mornings now, and I love starting my day with my word count done.

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST was an outstanding debut, and one of my favourite reads of 2013. What was your route to publication?

I was quite lucky. My husband is a writer and so when I’d finished a draft of the book, he mentioned it to his agent. I wasn’t quite ready to show it to anyone—no one had read a word of it yet, but his agent wanted to see it and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.  It turned out that they liked it at the agency, so I was pretty over the moon about that.  They gave me some notes and we worked on it a bit, and then we took it to publishers. The day we sold it was certainly one of the happiest of my life. There were plenty of tears and celebrations in my house for at least a week.  I’m still pinching myself.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?

I am writing a second book now–not a sequel, but a different stand-alone book.  I continue to be interested in the same themes:  power, psychological disturbances, dealing with a dark past.  My goal is to write a book that builds suspense but also deals with complex issues.  I hope to finish it up this spring.

 

That’s definitely a book I’m  looking forward to reading.

A huge thank you to Koethi Zan for popping by the CTG blog.

THE NEVER LIST is out on 30th January in paperback. You can read our review of it here: https://crimethrillergirl.com/2014/01/27/ctg-reviews-the-never-list-by-koethi-zan/

CTG Reviews: The Never List by Koethi Zan

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

I first read The Never List when it came out in hardback last year. It was one of the standout books of 2013 for me. It’s now available in paperback, and to celebrate I’ve reposted my review …

What the blurb says: “For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the ‘Never List’: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, they failed to follow their own rules. Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her ordeal. But now the FBI has news that forces her to revisit her memories, and finally attempt to find justice for Jennifer. If she is to keep her captor behind bars, Sarah needs to work with the other women who shared her nightmare. But they won’t be happy to hear from her. Because down there in the dark, Sarah wasn’t just a victim.”

From the very first page, no, the very first paragraph, this story had me hooked. I don’t know if it was the terrifying premise – three women imprisoned in a cellar by a man they thought that they could trust; the unwavering loyalty to her friend Jennifer that the protagonist, Sarah, maintains despite the danger that in puts her in; or the three women’s determination, against all odds and all that had happened to them, to succeed in their quest for justice and uncover the shocking truth. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t put it down.

One of the things that, for me, made the story seem so real was the voice of Sarah. A prisoner in her own home at the start of the book, she has to face her fears (and there are so very many of them) just to be able to leave her own building. She knows that she has allowed herself to be governed by fear, and that it’s far from normal, yet she has engineered a life for herself that allows her to work, to eat the food she likes and see her physiatrist without ever leaving the safety of her apartment. She is still a prisoner, only now it’s within her own home. And she is still receiving letters from the man who abducted her.

Then she gets a call from the FBI telling her that the man responsible for her imprisonment, and her friend Jennifer’s death, is coming up for parole. The news spurs Sarah into action, setting her on a quest to not only keep her abuser in jail, but also to get justice for Jennifer by finding her body. It’s hard to go into any more detail without spoilers, all I’ll say is that Jennifer manages to reunite with Tracey and Christine, the other two survivors from the cellar, and re-enter the world inhabited by her abductor to seek out the clues, and the people, that the FBI failed to find.

For their ‘Never List’ Sarah and Jennifer had imagined every terrible thing that could happen, and made a list of actions to prevent against them. At the creepy and heart-wrenchingly scary climax of the book, Sarah learns that sometimes the truth is even worse than the terrors in her imagination.

A chilling, page-turner of a psychological thriller: a real must-read for all fans of the genre.

Highly Recommended.

[Many thanks to Harvill Secker for my copy of THE NEVER LIST]

ps. pop back on Wednesday when I’ll be interviewing Koethi Zan about writing The Never List, her writing process and all things bookish …

CTG’s Xmas Gift Ideas (part 1): Psychological Thrillers

The holiday season is fast approaching, and along with it the search for the perfect gift. But there’s no need to panic. Hardback, paperback, audiobook or eBook, whatever your preferred format, books make a fabulous gift.

So, if you’re looking for a few ideas for the crime thriller lovers in your life (or you’re dropping a few hints about what you’d like in your Christmas stocking) here’s a recap of some of my favourite reads from 2013 …

Today’s picks: Psychological Thrillers

There have been some cracking psychological thrillers out this year, a few of my favourites are:

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

The Never List by Koethi Zan

From the very first page, no, the very first paragraph, this story had me hooked. I don’t know if it was the terrifying premise – three women imprisoned in a cellar by a man they thought that they could trust; the unwavering loyalty to her friend Jennifer that the protagonist, Sarah, maintains despite the danger that in puts her in; or the three women’s determination, against all odds and all that had happened to them, to succeed in their quest for justice and uncover the shocking truth. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t put it down.

A chilling, page-turner of a psychological thriller with one hell of a twist at the end: a real must-read for all fans of the genre.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/09/04/the-never-list-by-koethi-zan/

Rush of Blood cover image

Rush of Blood cover image

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham

Holiday friendships: sometimes they last, sometimes they don’t. But they’re usually fun while they last, and don’t usually involve murder, unlike the holiday friendships made in Mark Billingham’s standalone thriller RUSH OF BLOOD.

A cross between a police procedural and a psychological thriller, this high-tension, fast paced, character driven story is masterfully plotted and flawlessly told. It’ll also make you think twice about striking up a conversation with the people sitting round the pool or beside you on the beach next time you’re on holiday! Fabulous.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/09/12/rush-of-blood-by-mark-billingham/

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cover image

cover image

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

“She’s gone and it’s your fault. You were supposed to be watching your best friend’s 13-year-old daughter, and now she’s missing.”

Lisa’s life is beyond hectic. With her family, her job at the animal shelter, and the demands of her friends she rarely has a minute to herself. It’s easy to empathize with her, and it’s easy to understand how she might overlook the odd detail. An odd detail that leads to her worst nightmare coming true.

I finished this book in 24 hours, unable to put it down until it was finished. It also made me want to go and adopt another animal from the local shelter. If you (or the person you’re buying a gift for) enjoy fast-paced psychological thrillers with an emotional kick, then this is for you.

You can check out my full review here https://crimethrillergirl.com/2013/05/02/review-just-what-kind-of-mother-are-you-by-paula-daly/

Coming next in CTG’s Xmas Gift Ideas [part 2] – Action Thrillers …

CTG Reviews: Bad Blood by Arne Dahl

Bad Blood cover image

Bad Blood cover image

What the blurb says: “Detective Paul Hjelm and his team receive an urgent call from America. A murderer whose methods bear a frightening resemblance to a serial killer the FBI believed long dead is apparently on his way to Sweden.

For years the FBI hunted the so-called ‘Kentucky Killer’, their agents haunted by the terrible injuries he inflicted on his victims through his signature device: a weapon that squeezed the vocal cords shut.

Has he now somehow returned from beyond the grave to torture a new generation, or do they have a copycat on their hands?”

Arne Dahl is an award-winning Swedish crime novelist. Bad Blood is the second book in his Intercrime series and picks up a year after the first left off. The ‘A-Unit’ – a special unit within the National Criminal Police founded to handle violent crimes of an international nature – has had a quiet 12 months, but that is all set to change after an academic on his way to Sweden is found tortured and murdered at JKF Airport, New York City. Someone took his place on the flight, and the American police believe that person is the ‘Kentucky Killer’.

Detective Paul Hjelm and A-Unit attempt to prevent entry at Swedish immigration, but their plans backfire, and the serial killer enters the country. It’s not long before the body count begins to rise.

The story combines police procedure with twists, turns and double-backs to keep the intrigue level high and the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity deepening. As Detective Paul Hjelm and the team investigate, they realise that they need to learn more about the Kentucky Killer’s history in order to try and crack the case. This leads to the team splitting up, with two detectives flying to America and the rest of the team following up the murders in Sweden. This double strand investigation allows the reader to follow the trail of evidence in both countries, and lets you really get to know each member of the A-Unit team and their own particular methods of policing.

But it’s not just the investigation that keeps you reading, the relationships between the characters – not least Detective Paul Hjelm and his colleague Kerstin Holm, who are partnered up on the trip to America and working closely together for the first time since their brief affair – are interwoven and integral to the decisions they make, and the consequences they have for the case.

As the investigation gathers pace in Sweden and America it’s clear that only by working together will they be able to solve the case and put a halt to the killings.

A highly atmospheric and engrossing read.

Highly recommended.

 

[Many thanks to Harvill Secker for my copy of Bad Blood]

Jo Nesbo touring the UK and Ireland: starts next week

Jo Nesbo poster

Jo Nesbo poster

If you’re a fan of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo it’s time to get very excited. He’ll be landing in the UK next week for the start of his first nationwide tour of the UK and Ireland.

The tour celebrates the publication of his new Harry Hole thriller – Police – which will be published by Harvill Secker on 12th September [watch this space for a review coming soon!].

Jo Nesbo will be appearing at events and signings in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Stirling, Belfast and Dublin from 12th to 16th September including the Coronet Cinema, Notting Hill, with Waterstones Piccadilly; headline events for both Bloody Scotland! Crime Writing Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival; No Alibis bookshop in Belfast; and The Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire for Eason.  There are also three lunchtime signing sessions with Waterstones in London.

On the 14th he’s also doing the country’s first ‘high-speed book signing’ on-board a Virgin Train with WH Smith, and signings  in support of the Books Are My Bag campaign.

If you’re in London, Manchester, Glasgow or Dublin watch out for the fly posters going up to promote the tour.

I’m heading off to the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival next week and I’ll be sure to look out for the posters and the man himself!

To find out more about the tour hop across to www.jonesbo.co.uk for all the details.

THE NEVER LIST by Koethi Zan

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

What the blurb says: “For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the ‘Never List’: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, they failed to follow their own rules. Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her ordeal. But now the FBI has news that forces her to revisit her memories, and finally attempt to find justice for Jennifer. If she is to keep her captor behind bars, Sarah needs to work with the other women who shared her nightmare. But they won’t be happy to hear from her. Because down there in the dark, Sarah wasn’t just a victim.”

This is one of the standout books of 2013 for me.

From the very first page, no, the very first paragraph, this story had me hooked. I don’t know if it was the terrifying premise – three women imprisoned in a cellar by a man they thought that they could trust; the unwavering loyalty to her friend Jennifer that the protagonist, Sarah, maintains despite the danger that in puts her in; or the three women’s determination, against all odds and all that had happened to them, to succeed in their quest for justice and uncover the shocking truth. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t put it down.

One of the things that, for me, made the story seem so real was the voice of Sarah. A prisoner in her own home at the start of the book, she has to face her fears (and there are so very many of them) just to be able to leave her own building. She knows that she has allowed herself to be governed by fear, and that it’s far from normal, yet she has engineered a life for herself that allows her to work, to eat the food she likes and see her physiatrist without ever leaving the safety of her apartment. She is still a prisoner, only now it’s within her own home. And she is still receiving letters from the man who abducted her.

Then she gets a call from the FBI telling her that the man responsible for her imprisonment, and her friend Jennifer’s death, is coming up for parole. The news spurs Sarah into action, setting her on a quest to not only keep her abuser in jail, but also to get justice for Jennifer by finding her body. It’s hard to go into any more detail without spoilers, all I’ll say is that Jennifer manages to reunite with Tracey and Christine, the other two survivors from the cellar, and re-enter the world inhabited by her abductor to seek out the clues, and the people, that the FBI failed to find.

For their ‘Never List’ Sarah and Jennifer had imagined every terrible thing that could happen, and made a list of actions to prevent against them. At the creepy and heart-wrenchingly scary climax of the book, Sarah learns that sometimes the truth is even worse than the terrors in her imagination.

A chilling, page-turner of a psychological thriller: a real must-read for all fans of the genre.

Highly Recommended.

[Many thanks to Harvill Secker for my copy of THE NEVER LIST]