The two Harlan Coben books that I have read, Tell No One and Gone For Good, are extremely hard to put down. The only problem is that the most recent, Gone For Good, is a little less hard to put down than the previous one.
Coben is an excellent crime novelist whose primary writing talent is the ability to keep the story moving at an extraordinary velocity. Most of the chapters in these two books end with unanswered questions that compel the reader forward. Both novels focus on missing persons who are presumed dead. Tell No One tells the story of Dr. David Beck and his search for his wife who has been missing for eight years. Gone For Good relates the tale of Will Klein and his brother, Ken, who disappeared eleven years prior after being the prime suspect in a murder case. Gone For Good adds an extra twist in that shortly after information surfaces that Ken may still be alive, Will’s fiance Sheila also disappears.
Gone For Good is a little less hard to put down than Tell No One for two reasons. First, Coben injects more descriptive, sentimental passages into Gone For Good. For example, in this passage, Will Klein related a dream:
“I had a strange quasi-dream
“I say ‘quasi’ because I was not fully asleep. I floated in that groove between slumber and consciousness, that state where you sometimes stumble and plummet and need to grab the sides of the bed. I lay in the dark, my hands behind my head, my eyes closed.
“I mentioned earlier how Sheila had loved to dance. She even made me join a dance club at the Jewish Community Center in West Orange, New Jersey. The JCC was close to both my mother’s hospital and the house in Livingston. We’d go out every Wednesday to visit my mother and then at six-thirty head for our meeting with our fellow dancers.”
This passage continues for another six paragraphs, until Will’s dream is interrupted by a phone call from a cop. Fortunately, Coben ends most of these passages just before the reader is likely to grow bored. Yet the story loses some of its page-turning speed each time he inserts them. I can’t help but worry that Coben’s next book will contain even more such passages, thereby slowing the pace of the story even more. If he does it enough, his books will no longer be as difficult to put down. Hopefully, his editor will insist that he remove more of them in his next book.
The other problem with Gone For Good is that Coben has begun to preach his politics. In chapter forty, Klein muses:
“In life sure, we are special, dominant, because we are the strongest and most ruthless. We rule. But in death, to believe that we are somehow special in God’s eyes, that we can work our way into his good graces by kissing his ass, well, not to sound like a Communist here, but that’s the sort of thinking that the rich have used to keep the poor in place since the beginning of man’s rule.”
That’s the sort of writing that knocks the reader out of the story and reminds him that he is, indeed, reading. There is nothing wrong with inserting one’s politics into a story — as long as it is done subtly. Coben should let his characters and their actions represent his political views. Blatant preaching like that in the passage above will make the story less enjoyable for many readers, especially those of conservative bent.
Despite these problems, Gone For Good is still a book that can be read in one sitting. Yet it shows that Coben is developing some bad habits that, if they persist into future works, could diminish his ability to the command the reader’s attention. Hopefully, he will break himself out of such habits — or perhaps his editor will.
David Hogberg hosts Cornfield Commentary