Monday, 28 February 2011

Harlan Coben - CAUGHT

Harlan Coben – Caught

Harlan Coben has been 1 of my favourite authors for as long as I can remember.  Ever since I bought his 4th book, “One False Move” in a WHSmith special offer 10 years ago, I have done nothing but rave about his wit, his great characters and the speed with which he can download his adrenalized story right into the brain of the reader.

For 10 books he did nothing wrong, creating 2 of the best characters in modern fiction – Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III – and moving deftly out of the potential graveyard of a series decline into the novels which moved him finally, and beyond overdue, into the mainstream.  Tell No One and Gone For Good unleashed the modern turbo thriller – real people caught in mundane lives as they turn sour, nightmarish and ghostly.

For the last 3 books, something has been wrong.  For the last 3 books, something has been missing.  Some indefinable spark has poofed and floated away (and is probably now living with Greg Iles or Simon Kernick).  The wit is still there, but it’s an echo, a 3rd rate sit-com with the lights turned low.  He still creates agreeable characters, and their mouths are still occasionally wonderfully sharp, but they lack the emotional resonance of some of his finer and more complex creations. 

And then there is the story itself, as if his search for nightmares in a mundane world has delivered him to just one conclusion – those lives are mundane for a reason, and with it comes the hum drum of his latest novel.

Wendy Tynes is agreeable enough, smart, spunky and with a sarcastic attitude.  The set-up is good too:  as a TV reporter, Wendy “exposes” a local paedophile who is then murdered.  Is it justice, or was she set up to frame an innocent man ?   Five years ago, Coben would have made this an amazing story, mining the complex moral see-saw of the is-he/isn’t-he scenario, and adding incomparable threat when a conspiracy starts to emerge.

This time, the story limps along, readable enough, but lacking any complexity or depth.  It reads like the book of an author on a treadmill – one who can no longer wait to be inspired because his latest deadline is looming closer every day.  It’s a shame – with more time or thought, the book could have been so much more than the sum of its parts.  As it is, it’s storytelling by numbers.  Easy, readable numbers, yes, but 2-dimensional numbers never the less.

The blurbs on the book still trumpet the amazingness of Coben’s latest work.  Of course, they’re not doing that at all.  They are the long overdue words of the very critics who didn’t notice him when he was brilliant, and now applaud his lofted position in a crowded market.  Unfortunately, their long delayed adulation will force readers to this book, only to be disappointed.

Unfortunatelier still, those same critics don’t direct the reader to any of his masterpieces – probably because they still haven’t read them.
Save yourself and Coben: read one of his earlier books, preferably one of his first 5 Bolitar books, (when he was on fire, racing like a tornado and spitting out pithy one-liners faster than a coked-up comedian) and hope that the extra royalties will earn him the extra rest he clearly needs to recharge his thrilling batteries.

(because I love him and refuse to diss him too bad)

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