Harlan Coben,
No Second Chance
(Signet, 2004)

I've just finished No Second Change after reading Tell No One and seeing the movie based on the latter.

Harlan Coben is an absolute master at page-turning excitement. I cannot count the number of times the good guys close in on the bad guys in some isolated place and think they have the upper hand when they feel the cold press of a gun against their ears from someone who has snuck up on them. And the plot surprises are placed at regular intervals so that about every three chapters there's an Oh My God! moment. You never see it coming. You can't. These books are designed in such a way to be unoutguessable.

Coben's prose is plain, but kind of hip. He's that smart guy you knew in college who commented on passing scenery in a hilarious way.

The book's core is about parental loss and the agony that entails. Such passionate desperation is the driving force behind Dr. Seidman, who is ready to risk all to find out what happened to his missing infant. His passion is such that it draws others into his quest. This seems at first like a flaw in the book. This guy is too good. He has no personal flaws of any significance. We root for him unreservedly. Personally, I would have liked the guy to be a little mean, a little selfish, someone who drinks too much or gambles in Vegas. That would have made for a serious book.

When you get to the ending, everything is explained. Everything. No ambiguity, no vestigial uncertainty. And you realize the whole book is a bag with a carefully placed drawstring that pulls closed and seals perfectly.

I don't really object to that. I read Harlan Coben for fun and will continue to. But I prefer Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman. I come away from those books (expecially their freestanders) feeling actually dizzy with wonder over how they pulled that off with such soulfullness.

I think Coben's going to improve as he gains confidence and creates characters that we care about because they are disturbing on some level.

review by
Dave Sturm

13 March 2010

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