Monday, August 19, 2013
Three Characters Haunted by an Event from the Past
Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three of five stars
I first tumbled to Harlan Coben very early in his career when a friend recommended the first or second book in his Myron Bolitar series. I enjoyed the Bolitar books and found Myron to be an unusual but engaging protagonist who almost always found himself in the midst of an interesting plot.
After writing a number of these books, Coben began writing stand-alone thrillers, and I followed dutifully along. Some of these books I liked a lot; others I thought did not work as well, usually because the author insisted on piling one implausible plot twist on top of another until the reader could no longer suspend disbelief and the entire structure collapsed in ruins.
Stay Close falls into the middle of the pack of Coben's books; it's okay, but it's certainly not his best effort. The book involves three central characters who are united by their ties to a terrifying night seventeen years earlier when a man named Stewart Green disappeared. Two people saw Green in an isolated area, dead or very close to it. But neither reported the discovery; the body was never found, and Green is still officially listed as a missing person.
Ray Levine was once a world-class photographer, but he made a number of bad choices that came to a head that fateful night and now he has spiraled down to rock bottom, drinking heavily, living in a crappy apartment and working as a fake paparazzi. Jack Broome is the police detective who can't let go of the case that has haunted him all these years, and Megan Pierce is the suburban wife who's "living the ultimate soccer-mom fantasy and hating it."
Megan is also a woman with a very dark past that she escaped on that night seventeen years ago. After all this time, she decides to pull the curtain back just a bit for a quick glimpse into her former life. Just as she does, though, another man goes missing in the same way as Stewart Green. Everyone involved in the earlier case will be sucked into the new one, with potentially disastrous consequences for all of them.
As is usually the case in one of Harlan Coben's thrillers, this one moves fairly swiftly along, but I had a hard time moving with it. Unhappily, this is one of those books in which the main protagonist, in this case Megan Pierce, makes one astoundingly stupid decision after another, which is the only thing that allows the plot to advance beyond the first chapter. But after seventy-five pages or so, I simply stopped caring what happened to the woman. My attitude by that point was that a person as stupid as she deserved whatever bad things might happen to befall her. And once you stop caring about a book's central character, you usually stop caring about the book itself.
It doesn't help that at some points the writing seems unusually clunky and that the book contains a couple of villains who are simply unbelievable from the outset. By the last hundred pages or so, the book finally gets some traction and the conclusion is fairly satisfying, but by then it almost seems too little too late. Again, this is not a bad book, but a person new to the work of Harlan Coben would probably want to start with another of his efforts.