Friday, January 27, 2017

Back Spin by Harlan Coben

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A slightly better book than The Final Detail, the one I reviewed previous to this, Back Spin is about a golfing family--man, woman and child--that is torn by the kidnapping of said child. There's a large cast of supporting characters for a book of this genre, and by the end all of them figure into the crime in one way or another. There's nary a red herring in the whole thing.

There's nary a Win, either, which is a first for me in this series. Granted, I'm only three books in, but it seems that Bolitar and Coben agree on the same point: For the good of the series, or for Bolitar (which is saying the same thing), a little less of Win may be more. You can't have his safety net for the whole series, or for the main character. Every once in awhile, it's important that he does it alone. Win does come into it, of course, but only for character development. He does nothing to help solve the crime. (He attains a copy of an important VHS--this is the late-90s here--but that's it.)

This book again shows Coben's flair for character development. In these CSI-type mystery novels--I say CSI not because of the forensics, but because of the reliance on the tried and true formula of presentation, as well as the dominance of the case over all else--it's refreshing that Coben remembers and insists on character development and even moral philosophizing, the latter more on the reader's behalf after the reading is done, as opposed to the characters themselves babbling and morally philosophizing, which hampers lesser writers. Robert Parker, for example, who was not exactly a lesser writer, did occasionally get bogged down with Spenser and Susan's and Hawk's philosophizing and moralizing, which Coben seems to purposely stay away from. Not Parker's exclusively, but the habit of this genre's characters to do so.

In fact, Coben's characters go out of their way--even more than Parker's did, which is saying something--to point out cliches and to downplay them. In fact, Coben's characters do it so often, that in of itself is becoming a cliche. He believes, apparently, that pointing out the cliche is better than falling back on it. Though, of course, by mentioning them so often, and panning them so often, he's falling back on his characters doing that. I'm sure Coben has noticed this, but by now it's a staple of his series, and it's therefore way too late to stop doing it now. I can see this after just three books, and violently out of order, at that.

So Coben also is good at the character development, or at least with the characters being aware that they are developing. Bolitar especially realizes this about himself, in every novel so far, and in each he says that he doesn't like what he's learned about himself, either. But Bolitar also goes out of his way to notice the personages of his other friends, each of whom (Win and Esperanza so far) has had his fair share of the limelight. This is better than usual for this genre. For the third time in a row, as well--noticeable because I've read them so out of order--a mother has to go to an extreme to protect her child. (Again, it's a son.) This has become a common motif so far in Coben's work as well.

The case is riveting as well, as it needs to be, or all this character and good writing stuff would be worthless. As Stephen King points out, story, people, story. Leave the theme, development, etc. for later, to enhance the book. But the story--or, in this genre's case, the mystery--must prevail. Here it does. There are so many characters in this one, and each has some bearing on the ending, that it's important to notice that Coben gives each of them a dominating personality trait, so it's easy to tell them apart and to give a damn about them in some way, even in a negative way. (There's a white neo-Nazi with a Hispanic first name, for example.) Coben gets a pass here for getting too generalized with a group of high school girls and their vernacular, each of whom seems to talk like Jimmy Fallon's teenage girl impersonation, a good fifteen or so years before Fallon made it popular.

So this one is also worth a read, and again it's a very fast read, as I finished it in less than a day.

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