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Adam and Corinne are living the middle-class American Dream – nice house in suburbia, he a lawyer, she a teacher, two lovely, sporty, intelligent, well-behaved teenage sons. (Be honest, you really hope their life is about to be messed up, don’t you? Don’t worry…) One evening, a stranger approaches Adam in a bar and reveals to him a secret about Corinne that will rock their marriage to its foundations. At first, Adam is unwilling to believe it but a little online investigation convinces him of the truth of it. Now he must confront Corinne, not knowing that this will be the thing that causes their lives to spiral out of control…
When Harlan Coben is on top form, he’s my favourite thriller writer. He specialises in the ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, and his books are always full of twists, making them compulsive reading. Though they always contain violence, it’s never graphic and he steers well away from sleaze. He’s also mastered the lost art of using adjectives that start with letters other than ‘f’, and his heroes don’t lose control of their bladders every time they get in danger. It could be argued that the books are a little old-fashioned in tone, but that works for me and, since they’re consistently best-sellers, it seems it works for a lot of other people too.
In this one, he’s not quite on his best form but it’s still very good. It gets off to a slow start, and it took me a while to warm up to Adam’s character. He seems too ready to believe the secret about his wife, and the secret didn’t seem to me to warrant quite the melodramatic reaction he has to it. However, he improves on acquaintance, becoming in the end possibly one of the most fully realised of Coben’s heroes. Once he recovers from his rather selfish response to the first shock, he begins to be more concerned about the effect on Corinne and the boys, gradually becoming more likeable so that it’s easy to be rooting for him by the time the danger reaches its peak.
The plot requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, as is par for the course for thrillers. It’s based on the use of technology and the security, or otherwise, of personal data. In the last few books, I’ve felt Coben’s main character has felt like a man of Coben’s age – mid-fifties – rather than the fictional age – usually around late thirties/early forties, and that’s the case in this book too. Adam’s ignorance of all things techie doesn’t ring true for a relatively young man in a professional career. However his naivety allows Coben to pace the various revelations as Adam finds out more about how to track people and information online, usually from his much more savvy teenage sons. As the book progresses, the plot gets more complex and more fun to read, though at points it gets perilously close to leaving the reader on the wrong side of the credulity line.
Well written and flowing, as his books always are, this one has a more thoughtful edge, looking at the dynamics of family life and the corrosive power of secrets. The depiction of Adam’s relationship with his sons feels realistic and, when danger strikes, Adam’s realisation that his love for his wife is stronger than he knew is done very convincingly. These aspects slow down the action, meaning this isn’t quite the thrill ride we’ve come to anticipate from Coben. And the ending is not at all what I expect in a Coben book, which I found disappointing even while recognising that it must be deeply annoying for authors when their fans expect them to churn out the same old, same old every time, while keeping it fresh! Fans can be so pesky!
Even when he’s not at his absolute best, Coben is still head and shoulders above most of the thriller writers out there, and this book is still far and away better than the average thriller, and something a little bit different from his usual style. Recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion Publishing Group.