A friend told me Harlen Coben was a good writer, so when I saw a pristine copy in a charity shop, I bought it. It’s a bestselling crime/mystery novel, and I try to avoid the genre as I find it too depressing in a modern world full of such activity. But I took the paperback with me on a short break from the constant demands of the internet and read it over three early mornings.
My friend was right; Coben is a good writer. The story is complex, convoluted, challenging and full of misdirection. The main character, Myron, I discovered is the protagonist in a series, of which this novel is the eighth. Unlike many such series, this appears to be one that can be read without starting at the beginning; the fact that the character is well established for regular Coben readers had no negative influence on my ability to understand him.
Myron is the amateur sleuth determined to find the truth as a matter of conscience. The main victim is a young woman partly responsible for her situation, though many others suffer along the way. Both characters are well drawn, as are the other players in the tale.
One reason I avoid crime novels is their necessary depiction of the nasty underbelly of life: we witness enough such vile behaviour and its consequences merely by being aware of local, national and global events. There is plenty of nastiness in this book. Many of the characters are utterly irredeemable people the world would be well rid of. Fortunately, others are more-or-less ordinary folk caught up in events beyond their experience. And yet others are heroes with their own motives for righting wrongs and discovering truths. There were enough good qualities in various characters to engage me in the story.
Pacing is good. Motivation is as varied here as in real life. The odd passage of philosophising is thought provoking and sometimes controversial. I’d argue that Myron’s approved definition of the ‘real man’ is probably the cause of much unnecessary violence in the world.
Did I enjoy the book? I wish I could answer with a straight ‘yes’, but that wouldn’t be true. It engaged my attention and, as the denouement unfolded, I really did want to know the solution to the underlying mystery. But did it leave me uplifted, elated, even satisfied? No. It left me disappointed and depressed about a world depicting both the best and worst in humanity, with an emphasis on the bad side.
I have no doubt lovers of the genre will enjoy this book, however.
In a world beset by the idiocy, greed, selfishness and despotism of current politics, the potentially fatal indifference of many to the looming environmental catastrophe, and the increasing violence and corruption engendered by gross wealth inequalities, this was a reminder of how truly awful some people can be; a reminder I neither needed nor desired.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]