I have to admit I was leery when I first picked up Harlan Coben’s latest book, after slogging through what I thought was gratuitous violence in his Long Lost. Caught deals with another ilk of life’s icky people, pedophiles. Eschewing the graphic detail I feared, it deals instead with innuendo, accusations and the power of fear mongering.
Wendy Tynes is a TV reporter still trying to work her way out of the tabloid type stories. She’s assigned a sting operation to trap pedophiles. Dan Mercer, a man who works with kids in foster care, responds to an e-mail planted as if from a troubled teen. When he appears at the address the girl gives him, the sting is sprung and sets off a sequence of fateful events. In a pre-trial evidentiary hearing, the gallery includes parents of abused children, including Ed Grayson, a man whose anger and hatred emanates from every fiber of his being. Wendy feels his rage burning through her as she testifies about the trap and subsequent discoveries in Dan’s home. Grayson feels that Wendy must be able to tell him where Mercer is hiding. He reminds Wendy that the drunk driver responsible for her husband’s death is out of jail. “Alcoholics, well, they can quit. Pedophiles are simpler — there really is no chance for redemption…” He clearly has murder on his mind.
Now that he’s tagged as evil incarnate, a connection is discovered between Dan Mercer and Haley McWaid, a teenage girl who disappeared three months earlier. Mercer’s life is in shreds. He may not be convicted, but everyone knows he’s a pedophile; after all, it says so in the blogs. Anyone who stood by him suffers the same ostracism as he. As he tries to disappear into the woodwork, he asks Wendy to meet him. In a nearly deserted trailer camp; their disastrous encounter sparks Wendy’s doubts about his guilt. What she discovers will lure you into succeeding chapters (if you even notice the transition) and stop you from turning out the light. Luckily, Coben’s writing is so crisp and fluid, you can finish this book in a day or two: worry about sleep later. He effortlessly introduces dots of detail throughout the story, along with a smattering of his regular characters, and then connects them all into a picture you never expected.
The novel is ultimately about the difficulty of forgiveness; easy to ask for, harder to deliver. Along the way it reinforces our trepidation of the incredible power of the internet’s social networking sites. It may be great fun to connect with friends, but watch out for your reputation. You never know when you’ll be photo-shopped, blogged or tweeted into the abyss.