Never Coming Back is a psychological thriller written by Petter Lidbeck under the pseudonym of Hans Koppel, a shocking Swedish mystery of revenge in a chilling scenario. It begins with a deceptively simple event: Ylva Zetterberg declines an after-hours drink with coworkers, intending to return home to her husband and daughter, Mike and Sanna. When approached by a vaguely familiar face, Ylva allows herself to engage in conversation, even accept a ride home—until she realizes that the perpetrators have no intention of delivering her to her doorstep. Instead,, they take their hostage to a soundproofed basement room isolated from the rest of the house, with a camera’s eye view on a screen of Ylva’s home across the way.
Gradually awakening to the horror of her circumstances, Ylva struggles to comprehend the motives and intentions of her captors, though they make themselves stunningly clear, subjecting her to psychological intimidation and sexual perversion, systematically breaking her spirit as the days pass one after another. Meanwhile, Ylva sees the fabric of the world she knows change before her eyes: the flurry of police activity after her disappearance, Mike and Sanna’s routines altered by their new reality, the slow attrition of time and compliance to her captors’ demands fooling Ylva into believing she might survive her situation.
As Mike comes to terms with the reality that he no longer has a wife or Sanna a mother, bemoaning his own weaknesses as a husband and Ylva’s too-frequent infidelities, Sanna slowly accepts the possibility that her mother may not ever return. Ylva bears witness to the changes in her family’s routines, their slowly altering habits as time passes, meanwhile using her well-honed sexual skills on the male member of the captors, hoping to become invaluable, to satisfy his fantasies, yet wary of her hosts’ intentions as they both offer rewards and punishments at whim. In fact, it is Ylva’s prized sexuality, her pleasure in her body’s ability to give pleasure, to torment, to seduce, that has led to this bizarre captivity, the unbearable weight of grief turned macabre and twisted in search of relief.
The eerie tableau evolves through the primary characters, Mike seeking counseling with a compassionate therapist, dating Ylva’s former friend from work, imagining life without Ylva by his side. While two old classmates ponder the deaths of three others whose faces appear on the pages of an old yearbook as well as Ylva’s uncertain fate, they come near the crux of the abductors’ tortured revenge, tantalizingly close. Eerie and dark, Koppel explores the deepest recesses of the human psyche when rage and grief dominate those who cannot make peace with tragic loss. The result is provocative, disquieting and compulsive reading.