May 7, 2001
Every writer likes to stretch his legs, and here Coben, author of seven acclaimed Myron Bolitar mysteries (Darkest Fear, etc.), stretches his. He doesn't quite kick his reputation aside in the process. This thriller, Coben's first non-Bolitar novel, is a breezy enough read, but it's not up to snuff. It's got a nifty setup, though. David Beck and Elizabeth Parker, just-married childhood sweethearts, are vacationing at the Beck family retreat when Beck is knocked unconscious and Elizabeth is kidnapped. Cut to eight years later: Beck is a young physician working with ghetto kids in Manhattan, and Elizabeth, we learn, is dead, victim of a serial killer known as KillRoy. Or is she? For immediately after two bodies eight years old are uncovered on the Beck land, Beck receives a series of e-mails apparently from Elizabeth. His frantic search to find out if she lives dovetails with the equally frenzied efforts of cops to pin Elizabeth's murder on Beck, as well as the antic moves of a mysterious billionaire—an old friend of the Beck family—and his two hired thugs to frame Beck for that murder. Beck finds himself a man on the run from the cops—his only ally a black drug dealer whose child he's treating for hemophilia—caught in an overcomplicated tangle of lies and vengeance. Coben knows how to move pages, and he generates considerable suspense, but there's little new here. The narrative style is cloned from James Patterson, alternating first-person with third. The villains, particularly the billionaire and a Chinese martial artist, are as old as mid–Elmore Leonard or even Chandler. The black drug dealer isn't a character, he's a plot device, and the climax packs the emotional wallop of a strong episode of The Rockford Files. (June 19)Forecast:Heavy-hitting blurbs from Jeffery Deaver and Phillip Margolin, among others, indicate more about the solidarity of the mystery community than about this book's excellence, but should attract browsers. The publisher will pitch this as a summer beach read, and it's not a bad one. In fact, it may outsell Coben's mysteries, despite its flaws.