Based on the description of his newest novel, Six Years, I decided to try this author out, and was told that this one would be a good place to start. If the description of that one and this novel are anything to go by, then Coben certainly likes stories about women that disappear. David Beck, this novel’s protagonist married his childhood sweetheart, only to see her kidnapped and murdered on their anniversary. Eight years later, he still has not recovered from her death. However, when two bodies are discovered at her kidnapping site, it begins to raise questions about what happened. Then David receives an email that makes him think that Elizabeth is still alive.
Coben specializes in stories about people who are somehow living a fiction, whether they know it or not, and what happens when that fiction clashes with reality. Sometimes, it is the protagonist’s past that comes back to haunt him or her. Sometimes, as in Six Years, it is someone else’s past.
Coben’s newest book is about popular college poli sci professor Jake Fisher, who for six years has been secretly nursing a broken heart over an intense summer love affair that inexplicably evaporated into thin air when she married another. When he learns that the husband of the woman he loved and lost is dead, he can’t stay away from the funeral. There he learns that the dead man’s wife is not his beloved Natalie, and as he begins to ask questions, he gets an email from his long-lost girlfriend to back off — and a much deadlier warning from a bunch of killers who want to get their hands on the missing Natalie.
The stage is set for a pulse-pounding thriller, where nothing—not even Jake’s best friend and fellow faculty member Benedict—is what it seems. When Jake goes to visit Natalie’s sister in search of her whereabouts, the sister doesn’t recognize Jake even though Jake had met her during his summer with Natalie. When Jake is captured by sadistic killers and has to fight for his life, the scene unfolds in excruciating detail, down to the “rusty” torture instruments and the sound a crushed throat makes. If I had a second or two of doubt that a college professor could take on two armed killers, it dissipated in the exciting action.
Where I began to have some problems was as the mystery surrounding Natalie finally revealed itself to Jake and to the reader, and for this reader, at least, it was just too contrived to be compelling and the famous Coben hold on me began to slip. Not that this isn’t a fun read, because it is. It’s just that some of Coben’s books have really gotten under my skin in a good way. This one was a “enjoy it, put it down, forget it” kind of story.
After pulling off a “To Catch a Predator” ambush on social worker Dan Mercer, Wendy Tynes is poised for fame as a hold-no-punches investigative television reporter. Three months later, however, when a teen girl goes missing, Wendy begins to question all the evidence that she herself gathered. When she delves more into Mercer’s background, she finds a long-standing grudge may be at play, and that Mercer may be as innocent as he always claimed to be.
This is the very basic plot line for this stand alone novel by Harlan Coben. Coben is best known for the Myron Bolitar series and for a couple of his early non-series novels (including Tell No One which was turned into a French film). His Bolitar series is undoubtedly his best work, as there are usually good (often scandalous) mysteries, and Myron and his sidekick, Win, have great witty chemistry. Myron is fairly believable and Win is a handsome sociopathic (I always imagine him as Barney Stinson). Okay, so I guess the fact that I’ve talked for four lines about the Bolitar series says a lot about my thoughts on this book.
In sum, the best part of this book are the cameos from Win. There ya go. Truth. There is truly little to no character development. Wendy is pretty bland, and I don’t think she was ever physically described. The subplot with the Coffee Shop Fathers is beyond annoying (I had to skip entire pages because of the inclusion of a 40-something year old, white, wannabe rapper’s LYRICS). A good chunk of the dialogue was trite and expository. The storyline had so much potential to really explore many dark sides of man, and the things we’re willing to do for fame, fortune, success, or recognition. Alas, Coben went with multiple red herrings (seriously, I thought the end was over about 3 times before it was actually done) which kind of nullified all the story’s potential.
Overall, I stuck with the story. It was fine, but a bit disappointing because I’ve enjoyed his previous writing so much. This almost felt like ghost writing, because it lacked the spark from previous books. If you like Harlan Coben, I’d pass on this one. If you’ve never read him, don’t start with this one.
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