Around 2002, I read Harlan Coben’s tight, well-written suspense Tell No One and immediately became a fan. I was excited to read his Myron Bolitar series, not quite as tight but full of colorful characters and fun. His subsequent books at some point began to meander and get sloppy, so I quit reading them. Until now.
My wife bought Stay Close for my kindle, thinking I might enjoy it while I had extra time on my hands. (I love my kindle but get annoyed when publishers who should know better get the formatting wrong. There was a little extra space between each paragraph.) While Coben hasn’t lost his ability to keep you reading, he has unfortunately remained sloppy and perhaps even gotten worse.
In Stay Close, he unnecessarily tries to humanize the most cold-blooded killers with excessive emotional gushing. He uses schmaltzy cliches about family and gets away with it because his writing has emotional power, sort of like a appliance salesman, and because he tells you that it’s, well, schmaltzy. Gushing about irrelevant details in itself wouldn’t be so bad, but when he gives equal emotional weight and similar narrative voice to even the tertiary characters, the reading becomes tedious. Is the author merely finding outlets for his own feelings?
In a crucial scene near the end of the novel when one of the many “main characters” is creeping into a house full of potential danger, we get irrelevant description and extraneous detail. It’s near the climax. We are about to discover the true killer. We get three pages about the artwork, the coffee tables, the barstools and liquor, the bathroom, and so on. “There was no more time to waste.” It was as if Coben knew he was merely filling up the pages, and worse, that he knew it was boring. The killer says, “It’s all so.. I don’t know… meh.”
Many of Coben’s books are great fun, and I can recommend him as an author. Even Stay Close was a relatively fast read. But I’m disappointed that Harlan Coben apparently no longer enjoys the editorial effort needed for high quality.
Jeffrey Penn May
Where the River Splits
Amazon Review — “You have something rare as a male writer, in my opinion. I usually avoid fiction with any romantic angles written by men, as they generally do not accurately capture a woman’s perspective and thoughts on relationships and emotions.”