The third of my Cyprus holiday crime/thriller reads. The previous two were The Winner by David Baldacci and Camino Island by John Grisham. Coben is the third writer I do fall back on when in need of not too challenging entertainment. He certainly knows how to come up with a twist in the story and make the everyday and mundane a bit creepy.
The story starts simply: A father sits in Central Park and watches his daughter sing a song. Only she is no longer a child, she is a drug addict in her early twenties, a figure he almost no longer recognizes. She escaped from home months before and he’s been trying to track her down. Now there she is, so close but yet almost inaccessible. As he approaches her a man steps between them, a scuffle ensues, and his daughter is gone again. Instead, he is left with a viral video showing him beating up a homeless man.
And that’s only the beginning because later the man who intervened is brutally murdered. As the investigation starts we get to know a host of other characters. We have an opinionated police detective. A strong-headed PI, who is an ex-FBI agent. We have a cult with all the trimmings. There’s a couple of ex-foster kids bringing to mind Bonnie and Clyde. We also have a rooting side-kick and a statuesque wife who gets shot and falls into a coma.
Sounds like a complete mishmash and yet Coben manages to pull out a coherent story that not only makes some sort of sense but also has a mother of all twists at the end. When you think everything has been clarified he drops another bomb. And this is exactly why I like his books. He takes on a regular middle-class family and twists their life in all sorts of knots. That’s probably also why so many of his books have been turned into series, the plots are just asking for it. Readily expandable into several episodes that allow the story to completely unfurl.
The characterization is decent definitely, a step above Baldacci’s out of the box characters. The plot may not be the most believable, but on the other hand, is not completely otherworldly. In a way Coben does what King often does in his books, showing us that people will fall back on extreme measures even when the situation objectively does not demand it. It is sufficient they think they are in danger or their power is in danger and all hell can break loose. And this, I think, is where the appeal of Coben’s books lies – they make us think what would we do in this situation and it is not a completely unrealistic scenario. We are being asked about the choices we’d make. At the same time, it is great entertainment. Perfect for the beach.