Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Live Wire by Harlan Coben - Book Review

In LiveWire Harlan Coben is not at the top of his game, but Coben, even off his game is still engaging enough to keep his readers on the court and watching him weave his suburban saga.  Through ten Myron Bolitar novels, Coben has created a character grounded in his middle class home of Livingstone, New Jersey and the fast-paced world of a sports agent who, during the course of his adventures has expanded his practice to a broader entertainment world.  Along with his friend Win Lockwood and quirky staff consisting of two former "Lady" wrestlers, Bolitar seeks to preserve the incomes, safety, and happiness of his clients. This often leads him into dangerous waters.  Win Lockwood, wealthy and endowed with the useful combination of physical skills and lack of conscience, often acts as a deus ex machina, helping extract Bolitar from situations which could otherwise prove fatal. Lockwood's saving grace is a grisly sense of humor and a commitment to only causing pain to those who deserve it. His dedication to Bolitar is absolute. The lovely and resourceful former wrestler Esperanza provides office support while using her feminine whiles to assist Bolitar in the field.  Her former tag team partner, Big Cyndi, a truly loveable grotesque, completes the basic Bolitar team.

Many of Coben's novels, both the Bolitar series and ten standalone novels (a twelfth is due next year) succeed in creating a suburban Hell, turning the dream of home and family safe from the dangers of the city into a cess-pool of danger, mystery, and intrigue. At his best, Coben creates tension and risk at times becoming almost unbearable.  Live Wire explores a deeper vein in Bolitar's life and history, eschewing the darkest of Coben's imaginings for further developing Bolitar's character and back story.  While helping his client, the pregnant Suzze T, a former tennis player of great promise who runs a tennis academy in New York, searchout her missing husband Lex, Bolitar spies his estranged sister-in-law Kitty in a dive in the City. She disappears as Bolitar frantically searches for her, hoping to mend the broken relationship with his brother, Brad.  Lex, an aging rock star member of a band called HorsePower, has long been the partner of the now reclusive Gabriel Wire, who hasn't been seen in public for many years.  Suzze T soon turns up dead of a heroin overdose while Bolitar seeks to put all together and reunite his fractured family. Within the story, we are introduced to Bolitar's nephew Mickey, the protagonist of a new young adult novel just published called Shelter, perhaps signaling a new direction in Coben's writing career.

Harlan Coben
Live Wire is filled with Coben's characteristic gangsters, grotesques, plot twists, and social commentary. Bolitar seeks to care for his parents in the house where he grew up in New Jersey, while finding himself involved with the seamiest criminal elements in the Big City.  Once a potentially great basketball player, Myron had been critically injured in the last practice before his NBA debut and forced to seek other means of employment. After attending law school, he had become a sports agent.  He is, as can be surmised, physically and intellectually gifted.  He also comes equipped with an exceptionally strong sense of family loyalty and commitment to his clients. Both these qualities are fully engaged in this novel.  Nevertheless, the story doesn't quite elicit the sense of dread often hanging over Coben's best work.  This may be because his characters have become too much caricatures of real people, and Coben seems to recognize this, although he can't save himself from his wise-cracking asides about class, culture, and society.  As I looked back over his oeuvre, I realized that some of Coben's best work lies in his standalone novels rather than the Bolitar series, although I've enjoyed reading both a great deal.

Live Wire is a 2011 Dutton publication, available from all the usual sources.  I bought my copy.