Harlan Coben Month #3: Play Dead, Miracle Cure, Gone For Good, Just One Look

PLAY DEAD

First published in June 1990, and the first novel by Harlan Coben gives a story of a new couple that never lives to celebrate their marriage. Supermodel Laura Ayers and Celtics star David Baskin had just got married and while on honeymoon on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, tragedy strikes when David goes out to swim and never to get seen again. Now as a young widow, Laura gets to search for the truth and finds herself in a life of lies and deceptions.

Being his first novel, Coben portrays a picture of a devastated young widow who is after presuming her husband dead has to return home to the USA. Laura life is one full of misfortune as her family is one that seems so disintegrated with Gloria a recovering drug addict as her sister, her mother being neurotic and her father one who’s a workaholic surgeon. Laura, therefore, finds no solace here. David, an ex-policeman and David’s mentor, still does little to be of help to her as she tries to unearth what lead to her husband’s disappearance and death. We then have David’s evil brother who shows up at the funeral with plans to buck out of Laura but later drifts his attention to Gloria. I think there’s so much suffering in Laura’s life that we can just pity her as readers. The book has so many missing links especially the part of David undergoing some face transplant to hide his identity and no one raises the question. A lot of conspiracies also gets involved though some lack the suspense. Just as Harlan puts it, this is not the best of his works, and you should not make it your first read of his many books.

MIRACLE CURE

Harlan presents to us a clinic where doctors are treating AIDS patients. The scientists are almost about to have a breakthrough in finding a cure for this deadly disease when one of them dies in what looks like a suicide case. However, a female journalist, Sarah Lowell, gets to unearth the truth, and it turns out it was a murder case and the killer is also aiming the patients in the clinic as well.

Harlan does it well in blending medical research and the Washington politics in this controversial yet stunning novel published in 1991. Sarah’s husband, Michael Silverman gets diagnosed with HIV and admitted to this clinic. It adds a twist to the book as we wait to see whether the killer will have been found or it will be too late for Sarah. Just like his first novel, this second one still is not up to his current books and we can blame that on the ground that he was developing as a writer. Harlan presents a lot of preachy characters, and this somehow destroys the appetite one had for the novel. In 1990s, AIDS was a real cause for alarm then but not anymore today and hence not so interesting reading. However, he has used the mystery and some actions well that does some help to keep one turning the pages to the next.

GONE FOR GOOD

Published in May 2002, we have Will Klein a boy who had his older brother Ken as a hero. One night, a young woman who Will once loved as a girl, is found raped and murdered, and the primary suspect is Ken. When all evidence points at him, Ken disappears and for a decade, no one hears from him and his family concludes he is gone for good. Eleven years later, Will finds some evidence that Ken, who he believes is innocent, might still be alive. As Will tries to unearth this, his girlfriend suddenly disappears as well.

It’s is one of the best of Harlan’s books, and the plot gets well developed. The suspense is too much that you might end up reading the whole book within a day as you try to unearth what happens next. It had a great mystery and Gone For Good is pretty good for you. Will the protagonist has all along struggled to clear his brother’s name but as he tries to do it, he finds himself in a discovery path of his life and that of his girlfriend. Harlan does well in twisting the plot, and it’s a great work. We look forward to seeing what NBC will make of this novel when they adapt it into a TV series.

JUST ONE LOOK

In this book published in April 2004, Harlan tells us of a story of Grace, who has just picked her two young children from school. Grace finds an odd photo from a pack that has newly developed photographs. One striking face in this picture of twenty years ago is that of her husband in the midst of three other strangers. Her husband sees the photo that night and leaves without any explanation. Unknown to grace, a number of people are interested in that picture including one silent killer, Eric Wu. Now grace is on a mission; to learn the truth and also find her husband.

As usual, Harlan does it well in bringing great suspense in this novel. You can imagine how picking just a mere photo out of nowhere can turn a mother’s world upside down. However, the plot is a bit so complicated to the extent that Harlan’s closing chapters seem to be trying to explain it to the reader. The mystery of trying to identify the killer who now has Grace’s husband will keep the reader turning the pages to the last one. The strong character as in most of Harlan’s crime thrillers is a woman, and her motherly character is questionable when she decides to look for her husband. The reader has the question of who will look after the children. All in all, Harlan has done an excellent work in this satisfying crime thriller.

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