Chloe Sevre is a new honors freshman just arriving at John Adams University (fictional) in Washington DC. She orchestrated getting into the school for the express purpose of being near Will Bachman, a young man from her junior high school days who she plans to kill. You see, Chloe is one of seven students participating in a psychology department program, the Multimethod Psychopathy Panel Study. The participants are all considered psychopaths and the program is led by Dr. Leonard Wyman who believes they can be readjusted to fit in and behave normally within society. (Yeah, right.) As Chloe begins laying the groundwork for her own scheme, two participants in the program are found murdered and her plans get sidetracked.
Chloe’s point of view isn’t the only voice we get in the story. Andre Jensen is another new freshman and a participant in the program. He’s got a big secret, too…that he cheated his way in by pretending to be a psychopath and adeptly answering the questions to confirm it. He’s black, from a good family who figured he didn’t have a chance at college because of mistakes made in his youth. Andre was motivated to cheat because the program guaranteed 100% financial support. Lastly, there’s Charles Portman, a member of the same fraternity as Will and from an affluent political family in the District. Both he and Andre cross paths and purposes with Chloe but align as they try to figure out who’s trying to kill them.
I figured the story would be a little bit crazy and a lot clever and got both. Chloe’s psychopathy is so outrageous it’s highly entertaining and all you can do is try to keep up with her plotting and scheming. When she connects with Charles and Andre, I got lost in all the duplicity as they struggle with their distrust of each other while they have to partner for protection. I didn’t like Chloe but I also didn’t dislike her…she’s quite the enigma. I really liked Andre whose only agenda is to get a free education but also had to work with these two people he knew were dangerous. I’m still unsure of how I feel about Charles as even to the end, I wasn’t sure if he was being real or continuing the veneer he learned to wear through therapy.
I really enjoyed the story, a lot, even when it started to drag out near the end. I was starting to get bogged down by the theories and machinations and just wanted to speed things up. I listened to the book and thought Brittany Pressley was outstanding in her depiction of Chloe! I conjured up the image of Piper Perabo as a result and if you remember her duplicity in the TV show Covert Affairs, you’ll get Chloe. Pressley did a great job with the other characters and the storytelling, too, but her voice for Chloe elevated the story. The ending wasn’t a huge surprise but it was consistent with the clues. What was a surprise is what happened with these three. You’ll need to read or listen to it yourself for that, which I highly recommend. This is quite the debut with its unique premise and I’ll sign up for whatever’s next from Kurian.
- Release Date: September 7, 2021
- Narrator: Brittany Pressley
- Audio Length: 11 hours, 48 minutes
- Publisher: Harlequin Audio
As soon as the door to my new dorm room closed, I went to the window, scanning across the quad for him. It wasn’t like there was any possibility he would just happen to be out there among the families lugging moving boxes or the handful of students sprawled in the grass.
But there! A head of dirty-blond waves. Will. My mouth opened. Then the person turned and I saw it was only a girl with an unfortunate haircut. Seriously, you’d think she’d put in more of an effort for move-in day.
I turned and faced my empty dorm room with its sad linoleum floors, mentally going through my to-do list. 1. Get rid of Mom. Check. She had already left and was probably speeding up the I-95, popping open a bottle of champagne now that she was finally rid of me. 2. Claim the most advantageous space be-fore my roommate, Yessica, arrived. 3. Make six to eight friends before 4. My mandatory check-in appointment at the psychology department. 5. Find Will.
We had a double with two bedrooms, one clearly larger than the other. While my normal instinct was to claim the larger one, I immediately saw the problem with that. The larger bed-room had windows that overlooked the quad. What if I wanted to crawl in or out of my window in the middle of the night? People will record anything even remotely interesting on their phones these days, and I could be easily seen from the other dorms and academic halls that lined the quad—too much of an audience for my liking.
I took the smaller room. My generosity would score me points with my new roomie, but more importantly, the room had a view of the brick wall of the building next to us and there was a metal fire escape attached directly to the window. Easy access in and out of my room without detection—perfect. I dumped some of my boxes into the room and made the bed, placing my stuffed plushie whale on top to clearly stake my claim. The voices inside the dorm were calling me and I had to establish myself quickly.
I gave myself a brief once-over before leaving the room, reap-plying my lip gloss and fixing my hair. The hair had to be just right—a loose, effortless side French braid that actually wasn’t effortless. You have to be the kind of girl who “doesn’t put any effort in” but naturally rolls out of bed looking like a horny but somehow demure starlet. If you meet some standard of objective attractiveness, people think you’re better than you actually are—smarter, more interesting, worthier of existing. Combined with the right personality, this can be powerful.
Brewser had one long hallway with rooms shooting off on either side. I peeked into the room next door where two brunettes were wrestling a duvet out of a plastic package. “Hi!” I chirped. “I’m Chloe!” I could be whatever they wanted me to be. A fun girl, a potential best friend, someone to tell secrets to over midnight snacks. This type of socializing was just me playing little roles for a few moments, but when I need to go all in, I can. I can make myself younger when I want to, opting or looser clothes that hide my body and making my eyes shiny with dumbness—a whole costume of innocence. I can look older with makeup and carefully selected clothes, showing skin when necessary. It’s easy because people tend to see what they want to.
I went door to door. Room 202. “Omigod I love your hair,” I said to a bubbly blonde I suspect will end up popular.
Room 206. “You’re not brothers, are you?” I said shyly to two boys on the crew team (nice bodies but baby faces—not my taste). They grinned at me, looked at my boobs, and each vied to say something clever. Neither was clever.
Room 212 was a pair of awkward girls. I was friendly to them but didn’t linger long because I knew they would never be key players.
While I met a few more people, I was simultaneously assessing who seemed like they were going to be part of Greek life. Will was in a frat—SAE—and one of my first orders of business was to get in with that frat. The crew boys were already in the hallway loudly talking about going out to a club that night. That was good—an outing, and the crew boys seemed like they would be the type to pledge a frat. “I love dancing,” I said to what’s-his-name, the taller of the two, fingering the end of my braid. “It’s the best way to get to know people.” He smiled down at me, his eyes crinkling. If high school taught me any-thing, it’s that social life is a game that revolves around navigating hierarchies. Be someone guys want to fuck or you will be invisible to them. Be someone the girls want firmly tucked into their inner circles, whether as friend or enemy, or die the death of being totally irrelevant.
Even from our brief interactions, I could tell no one in this dorm was in my program. I’ve never met someone like me, but when I do eventually, I think it will be like two wolves meet-ing in the night, sniffing and recognizing a fellow hunter. But I doubt they would put two of us in the same dorm—there were only seven and they probably had to spread us out to prevent a war from breaking out.
I had to go then, leaving my new friends behind, to check in with the program.
The psychology department was diagonally across the quad, visible from the windows of the common area of my room. The quad was lush grass crisscrossed with brick paths, with each brick having the name of an alumnus engraved into it—John Smith, class of ’03. Funny—Will was never going to get a brick, but I was. One of the larger dorms, Tyler Hall, had a massive banner hung on it that said WELCOME FRESHMAN!!! I stopped to take a selfie with the banner in the background: here’s a girl excited for her first day of college, busy doing college things!
It’s practically destiny that I ended up at John Adams University. I knew I had to be in DC, which meant applying to Georgetown, American University, George Washington University, John Adams, Catholic University, and Trinity College—all of which are inside the District. As safeties, I also applied to reasonably close places like George Mason and the University of Maryland. I got into all of them except for Georgetown. Seriously, fuck them. My application was golden: I have an IQ of 135—five points short of genius—solid SATs and grades. I paid for most of my wardrobe with a business I set up writing papers for other students. Who knows how many of them got into college with a heartfelt essay about the dead cancer grandmother they didn’t actually have.
I had been offered scholarship money at various schools, but nothing like what Adams had offered. Even if I had turned down the psychology study, I still could have gotten generous scholarships given to students with my pedigree to entice them to a Tier 2 liberal arts school. But I didn’t care—Adams was always my first choice because of Will. Another bonus was the school’s placement in DC: a busy city with a relatively high murder rate. The campus was in the gentrifying neighborhood of Shaw, just east of bougie Logan Circle, and south of U Street, a popular going-out destination. A neighborhood that, despite the presence of nice restaurants, was also a place where drunk people occasionally got into fights and stabbed each other and pedestrians got mugged. Law enforcement was busy with the constant parade of protests, conferences, and visiting diplomats—they probably gave two shits about what was going on in the mind of a random eighteen-year-old girl with an iPhone in her hand and a benign look on her face.
I liked the somber castle look of the psychology department. Its dark red bricks were covered with ivy and the windows, edged with black iron, were warbled like they had old glass in them. The inside was dimly lit by a hanging chandelier with flickering amber bulbs, and the cavernous foyer smelled like old books. When I walked through it, I imagined a camera following me, viewers worried about what dangerous things might come my way. I would be the one they would root for.
I went up the curving staircase to the sixth floor where I was supposed to check in with my program. Room 615 was tucked at the end of the hallway, secluded. A placard on the door said Leonard Wyman, PhD, and Elena Torres, Doctoral Candidate. I recognized the names from my paperwork.
I knocked and a few seconds later a woman flung open the door. “You must be Chloe Sevre!”
She stuck out her hand. They probably had a whole dossier on me. I had had a bunch of phone interviews with a couple of screeners, then one with Wyman himself, and they had also interviewed my mother and high school counselor.
The woman’s hand was bony, but warm and dry, and her eyes were chocolate brown and unafraid. “I’m Elena, one of Dr. Wyman’s grad students.” She smiled and gestured for me to come inside. She led me past a messy reception area, a desk cluttered with papers and three laptops, and down a hallway to a smaller office, hers presumably.
She closed the door behind us. “We’ll get you all settled. Everything was fine with the financial aid office before you got here?” As one of the seven students in the study, I was granted a free ride to John Adams University. All I had to give in ex-change was my willingness to be a full-time guinea pig in their Multimethod Psychopathy Panel Study.
I nodded, looking around. Her shelves were crammed with books and stacks of printed-out articles. Three different versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Tomes on “abnormal” psychology. Robert Hare’s book Without Conscience, which I had read.
“Great,” Elena said. She pulled something up on her computer. She took a bite of the scone resting on her mousepad and chewed loudly. She was pretty in a grad student sort of way. Olive skin and a nice collarbone. You could picture her falling in love with some reedy nerd and trying to have children too late. “Here you are!” She clicked a few times and her printer came to life. When she stood up to retrieve the paper, I leaned over, trying to see her computer screen, but she had a privacy shield. I didn’t know if it was supposed to be a secret or some-thing, but I had found out how many students were in the pro-gram when one of the administrators had been working out my financial aid package. I was dying of curiosity about the other six students. The bizarre elite.
Elena handed me a bunch of paper-clipped documents. They were consent forms for the study, assurances that my data would be kept private, that there was minimal risk associated with computer-based surveys, that blood drawings would be performed by a licensed phlebotomist, blah blah blah. A lot more about privacy, location tracking—which I paid closer attention to—and what their legal obligations were to report it if I threatened to either harm myself or others. Oh, please. I wasn’t planning on making any of my threats known.
Excerpted from Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian, Copyright © 2021 by Albi Literary Inc. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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About the Author
Vera Kurian is a psychologist and writer and a longtime resident of Washington DC. She has a doctorate in social psychology, specializing in intergroup relations, political ideology, and quantitative methods. She has studied fiction at Breadloaf, Sewanee, VONA, and attended juried workshops at LitCamp, Colgate, Juniper, and the Marlboro Summer Writing Intensive. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a semifinalist for the Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch Humor Writing Contest.
(Thanks to Harlequin Audio for my complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.)