Saturday, February 4, 2017

No Second Chance by Harlan Coben

Photo: from its Goodreads page, here. And can someone write a Wikipedia article for this book, please? The one there now is offensively terrible. Thanks.

This one's got a thesis statement for an opening sentence: "When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter." Every single word in the whole book revolves around this first sentence, and it's a doozy.

Very entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking mystery. A man is suddenly shot twice, almost dies, and wakes up in the hospital to hear that his wife also was shot to death and his three month-old daughter was kidnapped. His sister later dies, and his ex-girlfriend--the real love of his life--is heavily involved, as is his safety net best friend. His ex's almost ex-husband also was shot to death, and she's a former FBI agent, as was he, and they were both extremely depressed, and she still is, and there's a gorgeous, psychotic and rather cagey woman involved, and she's a former child star, and she has a man the size of Nevada helping her out, and the day is really saved by a rural yokel with a mullet and a gorgeous mail-order bride who wouldn't be able to enter this country as of today...yeah, in lesser hands, this could've been a God-awful mess, but it's all handled well, and all of these disparate odds and ends all come together, as is Coben's trademark by now. It's very compulsively readable, though you may wonder about the ability of the cops and agents who circle the action but who don't do much of anything. They reminded me of the cops and the agents Johnson ("No, the other one.") from Die Hard.

This is one of those books that makes you wonder how the genre can stand the way these mysteries have all these characters who somehow don't need to eat, sleep, change clothes or go to the bathroom, and yet handle incredible stress and pressure that would've given a coronary to a meditation guru, all while running around each other, driving around (and over) each other, and shooting each other around the state of New Jersey and the City of New York. They all end up at the beginning, literally, which instead of giving the book a bookending feeling, instead gives the reader the feeling that he's been reading in circles for almost 400 pages. But the mystery goes that way, and, what the hell, life pretty much feels that way, so it all somehow works.

It works overall a little less well than Coben's Bolitar series, because he can't infuse the supporting characters with enough life for us to care about them. They're all a little too sharply drawn, a little too extreme, a little too down or a little too out there. We care about the main character, though more for his mystery than for him, if you follow me. I mean, why was he shot, and his wife killed, and his daughter kidnapped? The answers aren't pretty, but then his life wasn't, either. Then again, none of the characters have a good time of it. For a living, he courageously battles the messes to the face that wars make upon its victims throughout the world; his wife (and his ex's almost-husband) are manic-depressives; his sister is a drug addict; his father has Alzheimer's; his wife's mother was in and out of institutions, and abused her; his artsy neighbor was sexually abused and she's a mess; his father-in-law is a rich asshole, and this man's son is his asswipe, and...yeah, it's a mess, and everyone's a mess. And that's kind of the whole idea: Helping each other through this messy life.

And, in these times of Walls and immigrant bans, there's a nice message about helping out our fellow man, and about being there for each other, especially our families and our kids. If any of those folks would care to read anything, this one's got dozens of alternate titles and alternate editions in foreign countries to satisfy those who need alternate facts...

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