Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

thestrangerAdam Price is a tool. I don’t mean that the character is not likable; I mean he’s a writing device used to advance a storyline.

In Harlan Coben’s latest novel, the titular stranger shakes attorney and father of two Adam’s world by divulging a secret Price’s wife Corinne has been keeping. When Adam confronts Corinne with what he has learned, she disappears, leaving a only a text message, “YOU TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS. DON’T TRY TO CONTACT ME. IT WILL BE OKAY.”

Adam begins searching for Corinne while slowly piecing together the reality of his wife’s life. He discovers the stranger also has revealed devastating information to Heidi Dann, a middle-aged woman with a family in Beachwood, Ohio, and Michaela Siegel, a medical student in New York City. When Dann is murdered, Adam’s fears intensify.

When I started the opening chapter of The Stranger, I got that happy feeling I get whenever I read Harlan Coben’s books. I was hooked the first time I read Deal Breaker (1995), and I have been fortunate enough to attend several of Coben’s book signings. I can report he is clever and funny in person, as well as in print. Unfortunately, while the voice was the same, I could not manage the emotional connection I feel with Coben’s prior novels.

I have heard Coben say that, when he starts writing, he knows the beginning and the end, but he does not know what the path will be from point A to Point B and he does not generally write an outline upfront. Nevertheless, in 2014, Harlan Coben’s Missing You gave me pause. It seemed a bit too tightly crafted, as though the author had said to himself, “Hmmm . . .I read about this nifty writing technique. Let’s experiment with it.” With The Stranger, Coben delivers another novel that feels as though it were written for homework assigned in a creative writing class. Even if he truly does not know the route he will follow, I suspect Coben has consciously chosen his means of travel.

I am going to put The Stranger away on a high shelf and, when Harlan Coben’s next novel is published, I will rush to read it, hoping to find a renewal of the originality, humor, and artlessness I grew to love in his books. If that means some time before a new book is published, so be it.   Another truly good Harlan Coben novel would be worth the wait.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; First Edition edition (March 24, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953500



Review: The Bullet Catch by John Gaspard

In the world of magic, the Bullet Catch is an illusion in which a magician appears to catch a bullet fired directly at him. The magician catches the bullet in his mouth or, sometimes, his hand.

In John Gaspard’s novel, The Bullet Catch, Chicago magician Eli Marks has one possible murder to solve and yet another murder to prevent.

BULLET-CATCH-book-listWhen Eli grudgingly attends his 15-year reunion, he feels he finally appears on the radar of his once unapproachable high school crush, Trish– after all, her shady husband spends the evening tossing back too many drinks and hanging on other women. But he doesn’t count on Trish being a widow the next time he sees her . . . the very next morning! The death is ruled a mugging, but a mugging-that-might-not be-a-mugging, and Eli uses his connections with the DA’s office (his ex-wife) and the police department (her new husband) to dig around for the truth. Meanwhile, his old school friend, Jake, is set to star in a movie – a biopic of a magician who died performing the Bullet Catch. The production is sinking fast, and Jake is sure someone believes the death of the leading man will generate box-office gold.

With Eli Marks, Gaspard has created a witty, sympathetic, hero who is almost unnervingly likable. He is intelligent without being arrogant, loves his family and friends, displays common sense, and yet is fallible. Eli seems to be able to win anyone over. Even his ex-wife, with whom he claims to have a contentious relationship, shows him concern and warmth on occasion. I would like to be able to say Eli was so perfect, I did not believe the character, but I bought him completely. I am still trying to figure out how Gaspard managed to develop such a wholly lovable hero.

The Bullet Catch has a quick pace and dialogue that engages the reader from the first page. In fact, I was struck by how much this book relies on action and dialogue. The novel contains very little internal analysis or examination of emotions by its characters. When I had finished The Bullet Catch, my impression was that I had been reading a screenplay, rather than a novel. I was not surprised to read later that Gaspard has directed six low-budget movies and written books on the subject of low-budget film making.

The “screenplay” feel of the book is evident from the first chapter. The Bullet Catch is the second in Gaspard’s “Eli Marks Mysteries.” As with any series, the author is faced with the question of how to bring the reader up to speed on what transpired in previous novels, if at all. The Bullet Catch opens with Eli in the chair at his therapist, to whom he proceeds to relate the plot points of the prior book. The scene may as well have been prefaced by the announcement, “Previously, in the Eli Marks Mysteries . . .” The therapist’s office is a functional device, but a bit heavy-handed.

Nevertheless – screenplay, novel – a little of both – I enjoyed the author’s smart incorporation of details about the magic industry, as well as Eli’s relationship with his much-older uncle, Harry. John Gaspard has written a great character into an original storyline –If it seems to have been written to fit into an allotted time slot on cable TV, it doesn’t detract significantly from the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. I will definitely be seeing/reading more of Eli as Gaspard expands this promising mystery series.

Paperback: 282 pages

Publisher: Henery Press; First edition (November 4, 2014)

ISBN-10: 194097643X

ISBN-13: 978-1940976433ck

Review: Code: A Virals Novel by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs

codecvrIn Code: A Virals Novel, the third installment of Kathy Reichs’ young adult series, Tory Brennan and the rest of the Virals are back for a geocaching hunt that, once again, places their lives in jeopardy. While the novel possesses the fast pace, wry humor, and accessible science that make her Temperance Brennan novels, (Deja Dead ,Flash and Bones) so enjoyable,  Reichs co-writes the “Virals” novels with her son, Brendan, former attorney-turned-new writer.  In an interview by Publisher’s Weekly, Kathy Reichs describes the collaborative process. Continue reading