Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Promise Me by Harlen Coben - A Review

Promise Me by Harlen Coben, Signet Books, 2007, paper, $9.95,
When you first meet a girl you think might be a good date, you start by working around the edges, feeling your way into meeting and getting to know her as you seek to establish a new relationship. Meeting a writer new to your reading experience is much the same. You nibble around the edges, seeing if the book is one you will want to experience completely. First impressions make a big difference, but sometimes keeping at it turns out to be rewarding. Some authors never make the cut, some grow on you as you get deeper into what they have to offer. Others hit you right away and you want to give them your all. I first started a Harlan Coben novel some years ago and never got past the first chapter. I just put it down and wrote it off. The other day I picked up Promise Me, started reading it, and fell head over heels for Coban’s character Myron Bolitar and the premises of the story. Whether Coban becomes a long term relationship is still up in the air, but for now, I’m going to keep dating him.
Myron Bolitar has been on a seven year break from “helping people” while his creator Harlan Coben has been writing stand alone novels. Now, perhaps because of popular pressure, perhaps because Coben has some new ideas, perhaps because he needs the money, Bolitar gets involved in a new adventure. Bolitar is a graduate of Livingston High School in New Jersey, Duke University, and a enjoyed a brief stint in the NBA before blowing out his knee and becoming first a sports agent and then a representative for all sorts of celebrities, thus widening the scope of venues in which he could intervene. He is surrounded by a compelling group of characters including Win (Windsor Horne Lockwood III) a Duke classmate and now reigning Myron backup psychopath, the lovely Esperanza, a former lady wrestler become secretary, Big Cyndi, and Vera, a transvestite with a bunch of interesting skills. I’m sure there are others that I didn’t meet in this book. Bolitar brings brains, likeability, athletic ability, and a tendancy to leap into situations too quickly. His brains and ability coupled with the lethal skills of his team provide for lots of action sequences and general good fun. Coben is a master of page turning surprises that don’t telegraph themselves and therefore work very well. Right up to the final twist, this book keeps a reader involved and interested.
For anyone who’s spent time in high school, this novel has the capacity to chill to the bone. Life in an upper middle class suburb, the college admissions rat race, the anxiety of hiding from parents and other adults provide the ingredients for an increasingly complex plot line. Myron Bolitar, retired from helping people for seven years, involves himself in the lives of two high school girls by offering to pick them up wherever and whenever with no questions asked merely by calling him. Those of us who have been parents of teenagers recognize this offer as one born of a desire to allow our kids to grow up and become independent while, at the same time, trying to reduce their risk to life and limb. Of course, one of the girls takes him up on the offer and Bolitar becomes involved in a complex web of suburban hell. An aura of menace settles over the comfortable suburbs so many of us grew up in. Local police, school teachers and officials, your typical run of New Jersey tough guys, as well as a wonderfully rendered pair of sociopathic killers known as The Twins, and parents obsessed by their desire for their children’s success help Coben brew up a potent stew of intrigue and confusion. Myron’s growing romance with one of the mothers adds interest to the situation.
I can recommend this book wholeheartedly, but this is a first time out, and I’m not willing to say that Coben should become a steady date. I’ve got another of his books and will get to it pretty soon and will kiss and tell no matter which way it goes.