book: Caught (2010) by Harlan Coben

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We were away at a science fiction convention this past weekend, so everything’s a bit sleepy and tentative around Noirish Towers today. This will be just a quick note . . .

TV investigative journalist Wendy Tynes ensnares social worker Dan Mercer in a sting operation, the latest triumph of her show’s campaign to expose pedophiles. But then Mercer’s murdered — right in front of her — and Wendy begins to realize the anonymous tip that drew her to him is just part of a far wider pattern of persecution that’s tied to the disastrous consequence of a decades-ago university prank. In fact, was Mercer a pedophile at all or was this a baseless slur? Was she an unwitting part of a cruel conspiracy?

Untangling the truth may put Wendy and her family at risk, but . . .

Yes, you’ve got it: This is the traditional Coben mixture of fiendishly complex plotting and excellent storytelling that between them make the best of his books an enjoyable intellectual challenge as well as a gripping read. This wasn’t up there among his creme de la creme — books like Tell No One — but it was certainly among the better of his novels that I’ve read . . . which is pretty high praise.

What holds it back from being among his finest? Well, for me some of the many twists worked fine but others seemed just too implausible to take seriously, while the final twist I found very predictable. I also thought some of Coben’s frequent world-weary asides weren’t nearly as witty or wise or perceptive as he may have thought they were; his editor might have suggested he prune a few of them. (Or, who knows, maybe his editor did exactly that and the residue is still too much!) One or two of the characters, like Wendy’s friend in high places, Win, don’t seem wholly believable.

But those niggles didn’t stop me from devouring the book, grabbing a chapter here and a chapter there whenever I could. As I say, not Coben at his best but Coben at his pretty damn’ good.

9 thoughts on “book: Caught (2010) by Harlan Coben

    • I know what you mean. Yet in the best of his books that I’ve read the suspension of disbelief is rather like when reading the best of, say, Ellery Queen: You don’t believe the story could happen but everything works plausibly within the story’s context. Here I felt on occasion that events were being manipulated merely to make the plot work. (If you’ve read the book, the explanation for the girl going missing seemed to me like one such. Even within the framework of this novel, would anyone behave like that?)

  1. Apart from “Tell No One,” which of his books would you recommend? I typically read classic Detection, but would like to read one or two books by Coben.

    • If you like the “impossible crimes” school of GAD then you might find a lot to like in some of Coben’s work. The novels of his I like the best start off with an “impossible” situation, something for which there seems no possible rational explanation, and then slowly reveal how the situation came to be.

      The little cluster of his I like the best are (from Wiki):

      2001 Tell No One
      2002 Gone for Good
      2003 No Second Chance
      2004 Just One Look

      The other standalones of his that I’ve read have ranged from good to very good; I’m less keen on the couple I’ve read in his *Mickey Bolitar* series.

      Hope that helps!

  2. I have NOT read it, but I know the author’s work well not to mention his lofty reputation. Sounds like you have done this acclaimed book justice with this fascinating account.

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