Don’t Let Go – Harlan Coben

This is a standalone book which shows the author deploying his well developed technique of presenting a tragic event from one perspective, and slowly revealing what actually happened. Coben is a master at this genre, and he’s on good form here.

The tragic event is that fifteen years ago, teenagers Leo Dumas and his girlfriend, were killed by a train. Did they commit suicide? If so, why? They had everything to live for.

The first person narrative is given by Leo’s twin, Nap (short for Napoleon) who is a policeman with a vigilante streak. He has never given up on getting to the truth. In the present, as Nap tells it, things began to unravel in their community, and the common thread seems to be the death of the two youngsters and some mystery they may have been investigating.

This is a neat bit of storytelling, with a central character that is fairly well rounded, though far from Mister Straight Laced. The plot, as usual, is brilliantly revealed, and the twists are often fast and furious.

The major downside for me is that it all felt familiar. The characters may have changed, and the plot materially different, but the overall impact is the same as in many of Coben’s other books. They are all variations on a theme – good ones, but still variations. So, it was enjoyable, and definitely a good read, but I am looking for the author to stretch himself a bit more. This type of book is too much within his comfort zone.

 

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Home – Harlan Coben

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Apart from the somewhat fractured and frosty relationship between Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), this is another rather formulaic, albeit high tension, adventure.

Ten years ago, two six year olds (Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin) were kidnapped, never to be seen again. Now, Win gets an email telling him where one of the kids is to be found. But Win’s encounter with the alleged victim is somewhat messy, and things spiral out of control. Soon Win and Myron are forced to go back to the very beginning and hope a fresh approach will yield clues to help them solve the puzzle.

On the plus side, the formula delivers plot twists aplenty, and the whole narrative is fast-paced. And the friction between Myron and Win is absorbing.

On the negative side, some of the motivation behind the behavior of certain characters is less than persuasive. And the involvement of Myron’s young nephew – a crossover character from other books – did not ring true to me. I understood the attraction of building a link between the characters. But here, it was a whole bridge, and it seemed to be suspended in midair. To put it another way, it didn’t work.

If you can put your critical faculties on hold, you will get a cracking read. Otherwise, sadly, this is an OK book, but not one of the author’s best.

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Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben

Maya Stern used to be a helicopter pilot, until she was involved in a search and rescue mission that ended up with innocent civilians dying. She is probably suffering from PTSD, her sister was killed a little while back, and now her husband has just been murdered. She has, to put it mildly, some problems on her plate.

From the opening scene of her husband’s funeral, this roller coaster novel drags the reader along in Coben’s well practiced, well plotted, and carefully constructed style; one that demands you keep turning the pages to get to the finale. ¬†The reader follows Maya’s journey as she tries to get to the bottom of things.

The focus of the writing is on keeping the tension high, and progressing the plot, so there are no long descriptive passages showing off the writer’s vocabulary, or arty imagination. But there is some sharp humor, the occasional well observed insight, and nothing that jars as being unnecessary or out of place. The characters are not so well rounded, though you do get enough of them to follow the rationale for their actions.

If you do read it, the test may come at the end. Will your suspension of disbelief remain? I won’t give away any spoilers, but in any case it is very much an individual, subjective assessment. This book passed my usual acid test with ease: when I got to the last word on the last page of the last chapter, was I let down by reaching the end, and seeing there was no more? You bet I was.

I found it a good read, and was well blindsided by the final twist in the tale. So, I definitely got my money’s worth, enjoyed it immensely, and would recommend it for anyone looking for a fast, easy, and entertaining read.

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The Stranger – Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben is a gifted writer who knows how to grab the reader by the balls, and grip harder and harder. Sometimes his plots are so far from believable, that you can escape the grip. But when Coben gets it right, it’s a near perfect experience. This book is a terrific example of Coben near the top of his form.

Take a successful suburban family man like Adam Price. He is happily married with two kids. No marriage nor money woes. No health issues. Perfect. Introduce a stranger who exposes a lie. Watch what happens.

Corben’s setup is perfect. The twists and turns – because you never go in the direction you are thinking about – are brilliantly crafted in the main, and the excitement builds up. This is a fine perfect example of a page turner. Partly, that overcomes the one or two rough patches in the book (small, but noticeable), though Coben’s observations on this type of American lifestyle also might grate. They somehow appear as spiteful rather than thoughtful. Perhaps to balance that, Coben introduces a couple of good characters that help out when Adam Price needs help most of all.

The characterization is mostly shallow, but the action draws you in so deeply you may not notice. You may have to suspend your disbelief at one or two plot devices, but you will be rewarded by experiencing a good, entertaining, read. Not Coben’s finest, but well worth reading. But don’t start it unless you have time to finish it…

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Six Years – Harlan Coben

Six years ago Jake Fisher saw the love of his life marry another man. And his former lover made him promise to leave the happy couple alone. For six years Fisher kept his promise. Then, Fisher sees the man’s obituary, and suddenly that promise does not seem so binding anymore.

The book is the rollercoaster story of Jake Fisher’s journey to find that woman, and his trials and tribulations along the way.

It’s classic Coben in that you get a non-stop blur of action, with the story fairly rattling along.

It’s also classic Coben in that our hero discovers things around him are not what they seem.

And finally, it’s classic Coben because it seems so familiar. The plot is familiar. The characters are familiar. The conclusion seems familiar. This is not to say it’s a bad book; it’s just not new, or fresh, and has the slightly odd whiff of recycled, old material.

So good story, good read, but Coben fans with a critical eye may well feel they have been here before.

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