Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Tell No One by Harlan Coben, 2001

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This was strongly recommended to me by Herself, and is at least the third book I’ve read at her instigation ((Dan Brown’s two Robert Langdon thrillers came first)).

It’s pretty shiny. I couldn’t figure out if Coben sometimes used vocabulary in peculiar ways purposely or through Dan Brown-itis, but apart from that and my seeing most of the twists coming a mile off (seriously, I had the Big Final Twist sussed before the first hundred pages were past), I enjoyed it quite thoroughly. Blew through it in a day or so, in fact. (And when you enjoy a thriller even knowing the twists ahead of time, it’s gotta be pretty good, right?)

Dr. David Beck lost his wife eight years ago to a serial killer. He should be dead, too — he has no recollection of how he survived getting clocked on the head and thrown senseless into the lake.

He gets an email, which uses a phrase whose significance only he and his wife would know, hinting at… something. That message leads to evidence, which might be faked, that his wife is actually alive. And that what he thought he knew about her death is quite wrong. That first message also ends with the imperative: “Tell no one.”

I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that wifey really is alive (else how could a thriller like this work? For it to function at an emotional level, she’s got to be around). I pretty much knew that going in, and was wondering how Coben would get around modern forensics — because the body was not lost, and was identified by the victim’s father, who was also a retired law-enforcement officer. Coben handles that pretty well. The explanation is not insulting to the reader’s intelligence, even if it is a bit of a stretch when looked at after emerging from the story. Within the story, though, everything fits very, very neatly.

As far as the story and plot go, it’s very well done, and the only thing I can complain about is the fact that the bad guy is rich and successful and therefore corrupt because aren’t all wealthy people like that? Seriously, that sort of thing was old and creaky when Raymond Chandler wrote The Big Sleep.

Like I said, Coben sometimes writes peculiar things. In fact, his style, while highly readable, causes a few double-takes. For instance, he switches from first-person to third-person whenever it suits his convenience, and without warning. He just does it, which sort of weirded me out for a bit, but once I rolled with it, it worked.

But vocabulary. Who writes “she crumbled to the floor”? “Crumpled” is the usual verb, and crumbled just feels strange. It suggests “going all to pieces”, sure, but it scans weirdly.

Then there’s this:

I’m not one of those who give human characteristics to dogs—for one thing, I think that it might demean them—but I do believe they have a base understanding of what their anthropological counterparts are feeling.

He just can’t mean “anthropological” in any kind of strict, writerly sense.

I think he means “anthropomorphic“, i.e., man-like. Anthropological doesn’t make a lot of sense in this context, does it? It sure doesn’t to me.

But here’s the thing… is it Coben’s mistake, or the character’s? The narrator of that portion is Dr. Beck, who (one would think) should have a pretty firm grasp on the language he uses. If it’s meant to indicate something about the character, I couldn’t figure out what. Far as I can tell, it’s Coben’s boner, not Beck’s.

That’s minor, however, and only happens a few times in the novel.  Otherwise, it’s a crackerjack of a thriller, zips right along, and is populated by actual characters.  Recommended if you enjoy this kind of book at all.

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Written by [IMH]

19 February 2007 at 11:03 am

Posted in Herself, Literature

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