Vera Kurian
Vera Kurian

A Review of Vera Kurian’s “Never Saw Me Coming”

“Never Saw Me Coming” Book Cover
“Never Saw Me Coming” Book Cover

You are 18-years-old and your name is Chloe, but that’s not your real name. Your real name is Michelle. You’ve changed your identity following an incident when you were raped when you were 12 and were videotaped on a smartphone during the act. You’ve been labelled a psychopath — meaning that you lack both empathy and a conscience — and have been invited to participate in a program studying psychopaths at a university in Washington, D.C. If you participate, your tuition will be paid in full, but you’ll have to wear a smartwatch that will prompt you to answer questions about your mood at key points and will track your location wherever you go. It seems like a small price to pay, right? Well, what if someone started killing off the other psychopaths in the program? Would it seem like a savoury program to you to suddenly have joined? And would your participation in the program put you off your plans to murder the perpetrator of the rape that happened years ago now, since you’ve found out that he, too, is living in the D.C. area? His name is Will, and he is your prototypical jock. As a member of a lacrosse team and a campus fraternity, Will is the type of guy who only seems to be a natural child rapist in his formative years. But does he deserve to die? In your mind, the answer is “Not soon enough!”

That’s the set-up and premise for the tightly-plotted and initially taut thriller Never Saw Me Coming, which combines elements of the mystery and horror genres to profound effect. The novel is usually told in the first person singular from Chloe’s point of view. However, alternating chapters are told from the third-person perspective of other characters that interact with Chloe, thus creating an unnerving effect of the narration being somewhat omnipresent — you know what the main character is always thinking, but you also know where everyone else is concerning this character. This includes student council president Charles, who is also a member of the psychopath study and may or may not sexually have a liking for Chloe even though he is already in a committed relationship, and Andre, a Black freshman student who may or may not be faking his psychopathic diagnosis under the program just to get the free tuition.

At the same time, the shift in narration styles does create a choppy and unsettling read. It is a unique feature of Never Saw Me Coming, but I’m not sure if it is fully successful or not. In some ways, the book would have been better off just focusing on the point-of-view of Chloe, but, in any event, what we have here is an effective thriller — despite the conflicting narration styles — that will have most readers turning the pages rapidly to find out what comes next. This is a bit of a problem with this novel: you will be turning those pages quite rapidly hoping that you can get to a major plot point right away. That’s because most of the action takes place in the first quarter of the read, and what follows are characters doing detective work to figure out what happened in the recent past and what’s happening in the here and now. And, to that end, it never is determined how one murder was fully committed using an MRI machine, or why the perpetrator would use this unconventional way of killing in the first place. Anyhow, because of all of the snooping around in the remainder of the book, the novel does feel a little cold and flat when the killer or killers are off stage taking their coffee and cigarette break.

Still, Never Saw Me Coming does have its charms. For a group of people with an unsavoury diagnosis, you’ll wind up rooting for these characters and pray that they don’t get killed off — even if that means that they might wind up killing someone else for revenge or other reasons. The book does have a bit of a moral about not judging people and imploring that the best kind of justice is a restorative one, even though this is kind of treated as an offhanded thing given that these student characters are generally stone-cold killers themselves with no hope of redemption. There’s a bit of a twist at the end of the book that tidies things up quite nicely for the main characters, even though that means that some of them may get away with murder. Maybe.

Never Saw Me Coming has its share of deficiencies to be sure, but it is a largely fun and engrossing read. As it is set in the protest era of the Trump presidency (even though Trump is never named outright in the book), it does feel a little dated in its pre-pandemic politics, and because some of the action involves cybercrimes committed using social media, it may just be that this will be a topical book for only a set period. That all said, if you can look past the various deficiencies of the novel and treat it as a straight-up cat-and-mouse style game that’s being played throughout its page count, you’re apt to glean some level of enjoyment out of this book. Never Saw Me Coming may not be perfect, but neither are its characters. It may get you thinking about how you treat people with a certain personality diagnosis and whether they can be redeemed even if they might be potentially dangerous. The fact that you’ll never be sure who is a reliable narrator in the course of this novel is also a strength. Will Chloe kill Will? Or will she find another way to seek justice for the unspeakable crime that had been committed against her? The only way to know for sure is to read this book and find out.

Vera Kurian’s Never Saw Me Coming will be published by Park Row on September 7, 2021.

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Get in touch: zacharyhoule@rogers.com

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Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.