Caught - 2015 Reading Challenge

Okay, I promise this will be the only time during this 2015 reading challenge that I read two books by the same author. The point is to read widely and read things I never would have read before, but let me make my case.

  1. One category on my checklist is 'A book from an author you love that you've never read before'

  2. My second novel is a thriller, so I'm trying to inhale these things and figure out how they work

  3. My husband was being incredibly sweet and checked this out for me at his school library because he knew how much I have been enjoying Harlan Coben

There. I have made my excuses. Let's get into this.

A book from an author you love that you've never read before

You know those thrillers that you think you've got figured out only to be completely tossed around and shocked? That's how Coben's Caught was for me. Even as I look at it now, the cover makes me shiver, because you find out in the first few pages that Dan Mercer's life is destroyed simply because he walked through that front door. Accused (wrongly?) of being a pedophile by investigative reporter Wendy Tynes, Mercer is quickly dispatched by one of his alleged victim's fathers. Somehow, despite the overwhelming proof against him, Wendy starts to second-guess whether Mercer was truly guilty. If so, did her story lead to the murder of an innocent man?

There have been very few times in all of the thriller reading I have done where I have felt so confused, surprised, and as I said before, tossed around. Was Mercer guilty? Did he have something to do with the disappearance and probable murder of an 18-year-old girl as well as the naked pictures of those children?

With a stack of other books that I have to and want to read, I still can't resist Coben's delicious suspense. Even his ridiculous cast of characters, which always includes at least one unrealistically gorgeous bombshell of a woman, is heartwarming.  He's capable of evoking beautiful, intimate feelings when he writes of family relationships (particularly between parents and children):

Right now, even though he'd been dead for years, she wanted to collapse in her father's big arms and hear him tell her that everything would be all right. Do we ever outgrow that need?

But Coben has no issue giving you goosebumps either.

I remember one time I heard this English professor asking the class what the world's scariest noise is. Is it a man crying out in pain? A woman's scream of terror? A gunshot? A baby crying? And the professor shakes his head and says, 'No, the scariest noise is, you're all alone in your dark house, you know you're all alone, you know that there is no chance anyone else is home or within miles—and then, suddenly, from upstairs, you hear the toilet flush.

Now that I've read approximately 15 of his novels in the past six months, I feel like I've come up with the list of things that make up what I believe is a great thriller. I call it the Coben Strategy.

  1. Create a likable protagonist that the reader is not always sure she can trust.

  2. Write an immediate inciting incident.

  3. Put in lots of misdirection.

  4. Have at least one shocking character kill-off.

  5. Give your protagonist access to a reliable expert whom he or she can trust.

  6. Develop characters readers want to spend time with. (Look out for repeat characters throughout Coben's novels. I find them delightful, personally.)

  7. Throw in some more misdirection.

  8. Orchestrate approximately seventeen twists.

You will find these things in Caught and in all the other Coben novels as far as I can tell, but it doesn't get old. Why? Because even when you're following the same main character, as you will in his Myron Bolitar series, you are following a character who changes, who is not the same from the beginning to the end.

And that's what we want in novels. We want to see people change because it reminds us that we can change, we too can grow and become stronger and learn from our stupid mistakes. Even the repeated side characters grow from novel to novel. Coben knows his world and invites you to join him there in a way that I find irresistible. Clearly, because I keep going back for more.

If you're interested in checking Caught out, be warned: you won't be able to pick up much else until you're finished.