The Match by Harlan Coben

I believe Harlan Coben is at his best when he writes about everyday people — like you and me — thrust into crazy situations. Take “No Second Chance,” for example, which is about Marc Seidman’s desperate measures to recover his kidnapped daughter. Or “Run Away,” when Simon Greene spots his runaway daughter in Central Park, reigniting his quest to reunite his family. 

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Review: Win by Harlan Coben

The trouble, I think, with making the long-running sidekick of an established crime series the lead is that it diminishes the facets of their character that made them cool in the first place. Specifically the kind of sidekick who is notorious for last-minute rescues, or doing the dirty work the hero refuses to muddy their hands with; like Nate Romanowski from C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries, or case in point, Windsor “Win” Horne Lockwood III, from Harlan Coben’s eleven-book long Myron Bolitar series.

Win’s always been happy to handle the messier side of Myron’s vigilantism. He has a natural predilection for violence, rooted in his tumultuous childhood. He’s brilliant in a supporting role: ridiculously wealthy, a self-trained combatant, incredibly intelligent. And hedonistic as hell. Win is basically Batman without the Batsuit, only because he prefers the feel of thousand-dollar tailored suits against his skin.

In “Win” he is approached by the FBI to accompany them to one of most prestigious buildings in Manhattan, the Beresford. An unidentified older man has been found dead. Win doesn’t recognise the victim — but he immediately spots the Vermeer painting hanging on the man’s wall as one stolen from the Lockwood family home twenty years ago. So, too, a suitcase with Win’s initials. The case gets more convoluted when the dead man is identified as the leader of a radical left group responsible for the accidental deaths of seven people decades ago. Then comes a connection to another crime from the past, also close to home: the traumatic abduction and abuse of Patricia Lockwood; Win’s cousin.

There are lots of pieces to this puzzle that eventually connect satisfactorily, though without Coben’s trademark blockbuster final twist. “Win” is a breeze, the definition of a perfect beach read, laced with plenty of moral ambiguity and pockmarked with action, and the author’s established cracking dialogue and wit. But without Myron to gloss over his harshness, Win is an unsympathetic protagonist, and honestly, I think Coben has proved his storytelling is better suited to standalone novels that focus on the everyperson  rather than “heroes.” 

Published: 16 March 2021
ISBN: 9781529123852
Imprint: Century
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 400
RRP: $32.99

Review: The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

9781787462977Although it’s comprised of incongruent components — the unconventional, enigmatic, titular boy (now man) from the woods, seems oddly shoehorned into this ripped-from-the-head-lines plot — there’s no denying Harlan Coben is the master of the wickedly seductive , twist-filled, stay-up-all-night thriller.

The Boy From the Woods introduces former soldier and private investigator, Wilde. That’s not his real name; you see, decades ago, when he was a mere boy, Wilde was discovered in the New Jersey backwoods, living a feral existence, with no memory of his past. And despite attempts by friends and his adoptive parents to indoctrinate him into the “real world,” Wilde prefers living alone, off the grid, unshackled by societal constraints. So, Jack Reacher in the woods, essentially.

Wilde is plucked from his solitude by his troubled godson, Matthew Crimstein. Matthew’s worried about his bullied classmate, Naomi Pine, who has gone missing, and he’s turned to his grandmother, powerful attorney Hester Crimstein, for help; who has come to Wilde for help, since this plot needs a protagonist. Wilde learns Naomi’s classmate, Crash Maynard, is responsible for the majority of her bullying; and that his father, Dash Maynard, is best pals with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers; and who may or may not have some incriminating video recordings that could destroy his  friend’s candidacy; which may or may not be connected to Naomi’s disappearance (and a subsequent kidnap, of another child; no spoilers!).

Subplots and red herrings abound; The Boy From the Woods has Coben’s trademark twists and turns, but this time his hero lacks the heart and genuineness of, say, Myron Bolitar.  Wilde’s an offbeat character, whose origin sounds fascinating on the blurb of a book, but it’s not really fleshed out enough here, and he feels tacked on to a tale that doesn’t really need him. Hester Crimstein could’ve been the protagonist of this story. She’d kick less ass, presumably — Hester’s a sixty-something lawyer, after all — but I think she’d be a superior anchor. All that said, Coben’s the master at annihilating hours in your day, and this one makes for perfect airplane reading.

ISBN: 9781529123838
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 17-Mar-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

9781780894263.jpgIn Harlan Coben’s capable hands, the familiar runaway daughter plot is revitalised and exacerbated, in a thriller replete with several truly sneaky twists and a haunting dénouement. Although Coben’s customary wit and banter is diluted — the repercussions of Simon Greene’s search for his daughter, Paige, doesn’t really allow for sass or wisecracks — Run Away is another masterful domestic thriller, and another impressive page-turner from one of my favourite writers.

When Simon, a successful Manhattan money manager, identifies his runaway college dropout (now junkie) daughter Paige playing guitar in Central Park, he approaches her, hoping to encourage her back into rehab, or at the very least a few nights away from her abusive boyfriend, Aaron. Things do not go well. Strung out on drugs, Paige barely seems to recognise her father — and their resulting confrontation results in Simon punching Aaron in the face, and becoming a viral sensation as a rich guy abusing the poor. Paige disappears, and for three months, Simon and his wife, Ingrid, hear nothing;  that is until Bronx Homicide Detective Isaac Fagbenle turns up at Simon’s office, asking questions about the murder of Aaron. The Greene’s are suspects, but Paige is the obvious one and she’s still missing. So Simon and Ingrid launch their own investigation, which brings them into the path of Chicago PI Elena Ramirez, hired to find the missing adopted son of wealthy Sebastian Thorpe III, and a murderous duo named Ash and Dee Dee, the latter of whom waxes lyrically about the Maine religious commune she belongs to. Somehow Coben manages to successfully connect these threads, building momentum until the very last page.

Fasten your seat belt for this roller-coaster ride through family hell.

ISBN: 9781780894263
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 21-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

9781780894249.jpgHarlan Coben’s propensity for writing thrillers that keep you turning the pages hours after you meant to turn out the light continues with Don’t Let Go, a standalone novel set in the world of fan-favourite protagonist Myron Bolitar.

Nobody’s ever been able to explain what Leo Dumas and his girlfriend, Diana Styles, were doing on the railroad tracks the night they were killed by a train, or why Maura Wells, girlfriend of Leo’s twin, Napoleon, “Nap,” disappeared that night. They’re questions that have haunted Nap for more than a decade, and have shaped the way he has lived his life: isolated, an avenging angel of a cop who isn’t afraid to break (or bend) the rules of law to enact his interpretation of justice. Indeed, Don’t Let Go is told almost entirely from his perspective, Nap relaying events to his dead brother, as though he’s listening. It’s clear from the very beginning: Nap hasn’t forgotten what happened that night, and it’s still affecting him today. He is determined to find the truth, to uncover what truly happened that night, and understand how those events connect.

When Maura’s fingerprints are discovered in a car driven by a murdered Pennsylvania cop, sergeant Rex Canton — also one of Nap’s high school classmates — Nap immediately inserts himself into the investigation. When Hank, another classmate, is also found murdered, Nap realises the connection between everyone: at school they were members of the Conspiracy Club, who spent much of their time sussing out the true purpose of the secret military installation in town. Obvious conclusion: they uncovered something, learned something they shouldn’t, and now they’re being hunted down. But if that’s the case, why wait fifteen years between murdering Leo and Diana to now target the others? Nap knows he’s missing a vital piece of the puzzle, and to find the answer means delving back into his painful past.

One of the great thriller writers of our age, Harlan Coben’s clever, fast-moving and multi-faceted yarns always demand to be read in one sitting. Don’t Let Go is no different. This is an exhilarating and unputdownable novel that asks whether the truth can really set you free, and whether some secrets are better left buried. More impressively, it’s a pacy thriller with a romantic heart, never once threatening to become overly sentimental. Coben’s gift is his ability to handle all the elements of a great thriller — a thrumming, zig-zagging  plot, sharp dialogue, empathetic characters — with inimitable brio. Don’t Let Go is the work of a consummate storyteller.

ISBN: 9781780894249
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Home by Harlan Coben

Home Coben.jpgI slipped into hyperbole earlier this year when I reviewed Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Deservedly so, upon reflection. I stand by it.  This isn’t an apology for my extensive praise. Nor is this review what you’re possibly expecting: “but wait, his latest novel, Home, is even better!” No, when juxtaposed, Fool Me Once is certainly the better thriller. It’s got that brilliant final twist, which hasn’t been topped by any other novel I’ve read this year, and certainly validates Coben’s ranking as the consummate master of the modern day thriller.

That’s right. He’s not just a master. Anybody can master something. But to be a consummate master? Wowzer.

But – and forgive the obvious pun – there is something special about coming home. About reuniting with a cast of characters you haven’t read about for some time. Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III are two of my favourite characters in all of fiction, and we haven’t seen them (besides brief appearances in Coben’s YA Mickey Bolitar trilogy) since 2011’s Live Wire.

2011, guys and gals. That’s five years ago. God, we were do damn young. And look at us now. No, don’t – – !

Home brings these characters back, alongside the classic cast: Esperanza; Big Cyndi, Myron’s parents. Heck, even the kids wh0 starred in Coben’s YA series play a vital role in proceedings, and it’s great to be reunited with Mickey, Ema and Spoon. Their presence adds a cool continuity to things. So, sure; this book is for the fans. The readers, like me, who clamour each and every year for a new Myron novel. But there’s plenty here for “non-Myron” fans to enjoy. If indeed there even are such people out there.

The premise is straightforward: 10 years after two 6-year-olds vanished from a suburban New Jersey home, one of them is spotted in London. Obvious question: where’s the other? Myron gets involved because one of the kids, Rhys – – the boy who wasn’t spotted — is (or was) the cousin Windsor Horne Lockwood III, Myron’s best friend, and the friendliest psychopath you’re likely to encounter. In the past it has always been Myron’s lust for justice – – for righting wrongs, for doing the supposed right thing – – that pulled Win into deadly situations. This time the shoe is on the other foot. Win has always been there for Myron. And despite his pending marriage, Myron will always be there for Win. That’s the bro-code, didn’t you know?

Yes, there’s a big mystery here, and there are surprising twists (unleashed rather late in proceedings, admittedly, but no less effectively than in other novels) but it’s the emotion of the characters that really lifts Home above the rank and file. The heart and soul of this novel are the twin families coping with the loss of a child, and the extremes parents go to in order to protect them.

Ultimately, it’s just great to be back with Myron and the gang. The novel’s ending is possibly conclusive – – with a real lump-in-the-throat moment – – so who knows when we’ll see these characters again? In many respects, I wish I’d taken my time with the novel and truly savoured it. Instead, I smashed through it in less than 24 hours. That’s the true evidence of Coben’s class: his books are so gripping, you can’t put them down.

ISBN: 9781780894225
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 22-Sep-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me Once AUS.jpgForgive me for throwing out this hackneyed phrase — but Fool Me Once is a world-class thriller. I mean, seriously; just when you think Harlan Coben has reached his apex, when you’re thinking there’s no way he can beat what’s come before, he produces his best, most compulsive novel yet. Shudder in fear, fellow thriller writers; Coben has set the bar stratospherically high this year.

As always, Coben’s latest is peopled with believable characters thrust into seismic situations.Fool Me Once stars Maya Burkett, a former special ops pilot, home from the war, and suffering from PTSD following a decision she made in combat. This is a woman who has been through much in recent years; the death of her sister, and more recently, the murder of her husband, Joe. Despite that – her festering demons – Maya is determined to stay strong for her young daughter. So when she glimpses her dead husband on a nanny-cam just two weeks after his death, the familial normalcy she is striving for threatens to completely unravel. Maya finds herself digging deep into the past, uncovering the shocking truth about her husband and the kind of man he really was — and the kind of woman she is.

Coben’s mastery has always been the blindside; the plot-twist readers never see coming. I consider myself a ‘veteran’ thriller reader (see this patch I sewed onto my jacket?) and particularly gifted at predicting these dramatic zigzags (I am waiting for Professor X to sign me up to the X-Men, because I consider this my mutant power). But the grand finale here shocked me; it rocked me to my very core. I turned the final pages with my mouth agape, disbelieving, but believing at the same time. Because this is a twist that doesn’t feel contrived; it makes sense. It’s like an awakening; the journey up until now takes on a completely new meaning. If my reading stack wasn’t already threatening to topple and crush me in my sleep (why couldn’t my mutant power be invincibility?!) I’d re-read Fool Me Once with this new mindset.

Sure, it’s a little humourless at times — occasionally I’d find myself missing the Myron Bolitar’s one-liners (although a recent Tweet suggests we’ll be reunited with that old favourite soon) and the zinging dialogue of some of Coben’s wittier protagonists — and the novel takes slightly longer than usual to kick into high gear; but the build-up is worth it for that gut-punch of an ending. With Fool Me Once, Harlan Coben has once again proved to be the consummate master of the modern day thriller. I know better than to assume he won’t one-up himself next year.

ISBN: 9781780894201
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 24-Mar-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Stranger Harlan Coben largeThe Stranger examines the fragility of the American Dream; how the perfect life can be founded on a lie, and how its disclosure can decimate even the most durable family ties.

The Stranger has been operating for many years. He appears out of nowhere, when you’ll least expect it; during a High School lacrosse game; while you’re at the grocery store; a night out with the girls; during your Sunday morning coffee. You won’t know who he is, and you won’t know why you trust him – but you do. Because his revelations are undeniable. His truths are catastrophic, and will shake the foundations of your happy life. And before you can ask any questions, before you can seek guidance, he is gone, stumbling on the crumbling remains of your world. Who is the Stranger? Where does he get his information? And how does he benefit from these disclosures?Stranger USA

Adam Price is the Stranger’s latest victim. Living a content life – happily married, father of two boys, successful career – this is a man who is cruising through life. He has accomplished what the majority strive for. Then the Stranger whispers a devastating secret into Adam’s ear, about his wife, Corrine, and Adam’s perception changes. He hasn’t been living the American Dream; instead, a nightmare cruelly masquerading as that ideal. Upon confronting Corrine, she soon disappears, forcing Adam into a dark, deceptive world, rife with conspiracy and violence. Because everybody has secrets, and some will kill to protect them.

Coben keeps the pot at full boil, lacing his story with plenty of suspense and intrigue until the satisfying gut-punch ending. Wilily plotted, swiftly paced, and sprinkled with the author’s trademark mordant wit, The Stranger is Harlan Coben in top form.

My thanks to Peguin Group Dutton for proving a digital ARC

Review – Found (Mickey Bolitar #3) by Harlan Coben

HC FoundThe third in the Mickey Bolitar series, FOUND is an edge-of-your-seat, adrenaline-fueled story of love and loss. It’s fast, smart and emotionally engaging. This is Harlan Coben at his best.

Coben’s seamless transition from crime fiction to YA should come as no surprise.  Renowned for his taut, compelling stories, sprinkled with humor and a lot of heart, he’s perfectly suited to the genre. As a long-time Myron Bolitar fan, it’s been interesting seeing the continuation of the character through the eyes of his nephew, Mickey. Indeed, that’s what stirred me to read the series in the first place; but it’s not what’s kept me around. Mickey’s a brilliant character in his own right, with a troubled past, and the same do-gooder streak that made Myron so appealing. Witnessing this young man play the role of high-school detective (nobody calls him that, naturally) has been a fantastic ride, through the highs and the lows, and the heart-breaking consequences of trying to do the right thing.

FOUND ties together many of the threads left hanging from the previous novels – including a stunning climax – but there’s still plenty for Coben to latch onto for future installments. There are multiple plotlines in FOUND, which alternate precedence: there’s the high-school basketball drug scandal that’s rocked the team Mickey’s only just joined; his father’s supposed death eight months ago, which seems increasingly unlikely; the disappearance of Emma’s (Mickey’s best friend) online boyfriend; and continued shadow cast over Mickey’s crew by the Abeona Shelter, which is tied into various conspiracies. While there’s plenty for new readers to enjoy here, those who’ve journeyed with this cast from the beginning will truly enjoy some of the novel’s smaller, nuanced moments.

I have been on a real YA kick recently – over the past month I’ve ticked off ‘The Maze Runner,’ ‘The 100,’ and ‘The Hunger Games;’ FOUND is a refreshing, grounded change of pace. I’m not as well-versed in the land of YA as I want to be – indeed, as I am aspiring to be – but I know a good book when I’ve read one. FOUND is certainly that; a great entry in a series with plenty of fuel left in its tank.