Sara Gallagher is adopted. Pained by a lifetime of disinterest from her adoptive father, she decides to find her birth parents. Her birth mother wants nothing to do with her, however. Sara discovers this is because her birth mother was the only person to ever survive an attack by the Campsite Killer. Sara is the product of a rape and her birth father is a famous serial killer who still hasn't been captured.
When the facts about her history are made highly public on the Internet, Sara is contacted by her father, who calls himself John. He wants a relationship with the daughter he never knew. This prompts her to get in contact with the police, and she eventually becomes part of their team in an effort to track him through the phone calls.
This takes an extreme toll on Sara's life and those around her, including her fiance Evan and her six-year-old daughter Ally. Even worse, John seems to think that she's the only thing in his life that can keep him from killing more women.
"Never Knowing" has a terrific central concept and then fails to do anything interesting with it. After the initial set-up, practically the whole novel consists of Sara receiving a phone call from John, the police telling her which part of Canada he is in but they can't find him, and Sara feeling guilty over the potential danger she is bringing to Evan and Ally, or feeling that it's her fault that another woman might die. Repeat that scenario about fifty f***ing times and there's your book. There are also a couple of face-to-face meetings set up, but it's fairly obvious John is going to cancel, as there's still 200 pages of the book left to go.
Sara is a completely insufferable character. Whiny, self-absorbed, and wishy-washy. The author seems to want to explore how having a serial killer be your father can make one wonder about their own dark nature, but with Sara it all keeps coming across as immature whining. Basically, Sara constantly complains about the situation she is in, but it's her own decisions that have put her there in the first place. An inordinate amount of time is spent with Sara asking Evan what she should do, only for her to then go and ignore it and do what she wants anyway. Why doesn't he understand HER decision? Why can't he see it from HER point of view?
Sara's also a total martyr. If I had to read the sentence "it was all my fault" one more time, I could have thrown the book across the room. She HAS to remain a part of the case, because she's the ONLY one who can stop him.
The rest of the characters don't fare much better. Her father's indifference and self-absorption borders on sociopathy. There's never an attempt to explain why he's such an asshole, other than he didn't really want to adopt. Sandy, one of the detectives on the case, throws massive guilt trips on Sara and engages in conduct that would likely to get a real-life detective fired or suspended on the spot. Her birth mother, Julia, is a miserable bitch who calls Sara up or invites her over to either tell her to leave her alone, or say outrageously unfair things to her. Sara's complete inability to tell these people to f*** off (instead she panders to them) made me like her even less. Her daughter Ally's bratty behaviour even became tiresome at times.
Like the author's previous novel "Still Missing", the story is told through sessions with Sara's psychiatrist. While that approach worked in "Still Missing", it is not appropriate here. Sara's tendency to drop everything to race to see her shrink only added another irritating element to her character. Can she do anything without overreacting or consulting fifty different people? I'm not sure why Stevens would go to the same well in terms of writing style; it smacks more of the author having used up her bag of tricks. Should have just told the story in a linear fashion; the shrink sessions add nothing.
Any positives? There are a couple of sequences in the last quarter of the book that generate the suspense necessary for a thriller of this type. If only it didn't take so long to get to them, or that all that time had to be spent with somebody so idiotic and annoying.