Just One Look - Harlan Coben
Just one look at Coben's latest stand-alone thriller (after No Second Chance) highlights the author's customary strengths (swift pacing, strong lead characters) but also his weaknesses, including limited originality and, in this case, a plot so complicated that many final pages are devoted to sorting it out. The premise is simple enough: suburban housewife Grace Lawson collects some pictures at the local Photomat; inexplicably, one is an old print depicting her husband, Jack, with other college students; when Grace shows the photo to Jack, he drives away and disappears. Grace's hunt for her missing husband, whom we learn has been kidnapped (but why? and Coben fans will note that the author's last novel also hinged on a kidnapped family member), sweeps her back into a nightmare she thought she'd escaped: the evening years ago when she survived a rock concert rampage, occasioned by a shooting that left many dead. Meanwhile, Eric Wu, a dare we say? inscrutable martial-arts killer who has snatched Jack for reasons unknown, menaces assorted folk. Eventually Grace, aided by a Gotti-like mobster whose child was killed in the rampage, gloms on to Wu, as well as on to Jack's sister, a high-powered attorney who, it turns out, is representing the guy who started the rampage by firing his gun. Only he didn't start the rampage after all, and then there's the rock star who vanished after the shooting and resultant mayhem what's he now doing on Grace's doorstep? This is all as complicated as a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and about as hard to figure out, although in the midst of the murk there are some wonderful character touches. Coben can write thrillers that lift readers off their seats; this one, alas, will have them slumping.