Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016: Maximum Shelf: Never Let You Go

St. Martin's Press: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

St. Martin's Press: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

St. Martin's Press: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

St. Martin's Press: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

Never Let You Go

by Chevy Stevens

Lindsey is 19 years old when she falls for Andrew Nash, a charming man beloved by her friends and family. But over the years of their marriage, Andrew becomes more and more controlling, isolating Lindsey from those who love her, convincing her that she is the cause of his problems, making her doubt her own strength and threatening her with physical violence. With no resources, a young daughter to protect and an increasing loss of control over her existence, Lindsey is unsure of what to do--terrified of what will happen if she tries to leave Andrew, but just as terrified of what will happen if she stays.

Eleven years later, Lindsey and her daughter, Sophie, are living a quiet and independent life in the small town of Dogwood Bay, off the western coast of Canada. Andrew is in jail, caught driving drunk after he hit--and killed--another woman and publicly threatened to kill Lindsey. Their seaside town is accessible only by float plane or ferry, and Lindsey feels relatively safe. She has built a housecleaning business to support her small family; she has a boyfriend, a devoted daughter and a network of friends who support her. She is as happy as she could hope to be.

Until the terror of her past comes crashing into her present. While cleaning a client's house, Lindsey finds a window left open, a dead budgie in the freezing cold and, later, the contents of her purse rearranged; she's distinctly aware of another presence in the residence with her. Her mind immediately goes to Andrew: "He's going to make me pay for every year he spent behind bars."

The shock of fear that this first encounter sends through Lindsey radiates off the page and lingers throughout the rest of Never Let You Go, the sixth novel from bestselling author Chevy Stevens (Still Missing, That Night). As the opening chapters of the novel alternate between Lindsey's past and present, the story of her marriage to Andrew--and its violent dissolution--forms a foundation of fear that builds as Andrew's presence in Lindsey's new life becomes more and more apparent.

Lindsey runs into Andrew in the bank parking lot; she finds her e-mails marked as read before she's seen them; she discovers her celebrity gossip magazines (Andrew always hated those) in the trash in her bathroom. Her mail is opened and lined up on her desk, her keys are moved, a book is laid open by her bathtub. The actions are subtle and, individually, seemingly harmless--making Lindsey all the more convinced that they are the work of Andrew, determined to terrify her, to threaten her, to drive her to desperation as he toys with her fear.

This subtlety is, in some ways, a new direction for Chevy Stevens, whose early works are marked by a dark and twisted kind of violence. But that's not to suggest that the more reserved terror of Never Let You Go is at all a disappointment; instead, the hooks that sink in from page one and dig ever deeper through a thrilling and unanticipated end are all the more frightening for their invisibility. There is nothing hidden in dark corners, nothing to jump out in the night--only the fear that lurks in Lindsey's mind, and in Sophie's, and in their sometimes desperate attempts to protect each other from an unseen but all-too-present threat.

The subtlety of Never Let You Go, too, gives Stevens room to explore larger themes in the context of a psychological thriller: the intricacies of a controlling, abusive relationship; the strength of the bond between a mother and her daughter; the urge not only to survive, but to thrive, in the aftermath of a horrible crime--and perhaps most centrally, the question of evil. "Your father wasn't evil," Lindsey tells Sophie. "He was just broken." Broken suggests the possibility of fixing, though, which is a thought Lindsey is not willing to entertain. Stevens leverages this particular point to great effect, exploring the question of how much a person can truly change over time in Andrew, who is indeed a broken man--if a questionably evil one.

These explorations, though, never slow the pacing of Never Let You Go, which pushes on relentlessly from the first page toward a thrilling, unexpected--and yet entirely believable--conclusion. Stevens's previous works have solidified her place as a master of suspense; in Never Let You Go, readers can look forward to a different approach to that suspense, but with the same satisfying thrill of the unexpected from start to finish. --Kerry McHugh

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250034564, March 14, 2017

St. Martin's Press: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens: Exploring Subtle Fear

photo: Poppy Photography

Chevy Stevens is the author of five previous thrillers, including Still Missing (a New York Times bestseller and awarded the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel) and That Night. Her sixth novel, Never Let You Go, is a gripping psychological thriller about a woman fleeing her abusive ex-husband, convinced that he's stalking her and her daughter after his release from jail. Stevens grew up on Vancouver Island and lives there now with her husband and daughter.

Never Let You Go is a suspenseful novel about a woman fleeing the threat of her abusive ex-husband, Andrew. How did you research what that experience would be like for Lindsey?

I don't think I really had to research it. I grew up in a violent childhood. I had a father who was an alcoholic and was violent towards my mother. The insulting abuse and constant put-downs were certainly there, though he would only go to violence when drinking. He'd have these benders where he'd trash our house, break our windows, rip the phone off the wall.

When I wrote my first book, Still Missing, I tackled this issue from a side way. I had Annie trapped with a man in a cabin, and I explored survival and all of that. But this is the first time I've actually more directly approached the topic.

When I wrote this book, I didn't sit down to channel the emotions that I had and what my mother had gone through in that relationship. I actually had a different concept to start with. I realized by writing Lindsey, though, that I was wondering how my mom felt about her marriage. So I was able, through both Lindsey and Sophie, to really connect with my own emotions a lot.

We've all been either controlling at times or been in a controlling relationship. You can see how it can happen. I'm also a naturally empathetic person, so I didn't find it difficult to put myself in that position and understand how they operate. 

You mentioned that you originally had a different concept for this novel. How did you get to where you ended up?

I actually had a completely different book in the works for about nine months. It was about a home invasion. I was trying multiple perspectives, and writing in the third person, where I've always been a first-person writer. I wasn't really connecting emotionally with the characters, but I kept pushing through. Then I submitted it to my editor, and the first thing she said was, "I just feel like you aren't really connecting with these characters." We thought about different ways we could fix it, though I think that I just instinctively knew that it wasn't the right book. The more we tried to fix it, the worse it got. I had to move on. It sucked to let go of nine months of work, but it just wasn't working.

So we starting discussing all these what ifs, and one of them was, What if you were housecleaning and found a dead body? That never actually happens in Never Let You Go, but that was where I started when I sat down to write the first chapter.

Much of the story of Never Let You Go is driven by Lindsey's relationship with Andrew. But there's also a really intense, central relationship between Lindsey and her daughter, Sophie.

The relationship between Lindsey and Sophie was really important to me because I have a four-year-old daughter. I hope that we will have that similar kind of relationship that they do, with that kind of banter and openness. And some of Lindsey's memories of her daughter's being young are from my own memories of my daughter.

Lindsey and Sophie really love each other. They have their differences, of course, but I didn't want to write a mom and daughter battling. I wanted to show that they really care about each other and are trying to protect each other. Sophie thinks she's doing the right thing by not telling her mom that she wants to reconnect with her father; she doesn't want to worry Lindsey. And Lindsey thinks she's doing the right thing by not having told her daughter some things about her father. They really are trying to take care of each other.

I also wanted to explore teen love, which I did through Sophie's first relationship. And imagine what it would be like for a mother like Lindsey to see her child starting to fall into the same pattern that she did when she was young. That would be terrifying.

The timeline shifts backward and forward. Did you write it in chronological order? Or bounce around?

I do usually work in chronological order, but this one was a little different. It was like putting together puzzle pieces. I would write different vignettes of Lindsey and Andrew's marriage, and then had to work on where to place them in the story. I wanted to best emphasize what was happening in present day with the flashbacks. 

You've previously said that you are intrigued by the after-effects of crime. There's some active crime and mystery in Never Let You Go, but would you say it's also about what it takes to survive a past crime?

It's a chain reaction, in a way. That even happens now. Say a family has a traumatic event happen to it, like a car accident. That stuff can affect generation after generation after generation. Anything momentous like that, the tentacles just go out. So in some ways, Never Let You Go is about that. Lindsey made a decision, and because of that, something else happened and something else happened and something else happened after that. It's very much about the ricochet effect. 

Your books, including this one, have been described as "psychological thrillers." Did you set out to write something psychologically suspenseful again, or is that just how this evolved?

I didn't want to write extreme violence against a woman. I've done that in books, and I've moved away from that. When I first started writing, I was writing about what scared me: big terrifying things, how horrible it would be to be abducted. I've moved more into wanting to explore a more subtle kind of fear. It tends to be a slow build, but there's ever-present concern. There's no big serial killer, no blood, no big jump-out moments, but it's still terrifying. 

I also didn't want the story to be obvious, or too dark and twisted. In a way, I wanted to write a book that I felt comfortable recommending. It's a funny thing--when people ask which of my books they should read, I always wondered how to recommend a book about three women who suffer horrible, terrible abductions? I know a lot of my readers really love the dark and twisted, but I wanted a book that would maybe be relatable to a wider range.

And though I didn't set out to write a personal book, it became much more personal than I realized. –Kerry McHugh

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