Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Harlen Coben

This entry is part 75 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Hi guys. Been a long time right?

Okay, well, no, not for you. As far as my screaming, ever excited fans are concerned, my last blog came out three days ago.

Even that probably felt like a lifetime, so desperate were you for the next instalment.

But, if you’re me (keep dreaming), the gap has been considerably longer.

My Steve Jobs blog came out on 14/11/2018, which if you’re from a normal country translates as the fourteenth of November and if you’re from America translates as some fake month probably hinting at a conspiracy involving terrorists.

Eh, I digress. What was I saying?

Oh yeah, I released Steve Jobs on fourteenth November, and this blog comes out on the seventeenth.

But, I finished the Steve Jobs book on 2nd October, a month and a half earlier, and I wrote the blog a couple of days after that.

This finished, I spent the next 22 days reading nine Harlan Coben thrillers.

That’s an impressive book every 2.44 days, but what it means is I haven’t sat down and written a blog in a little over three weeks, given it is now a few days after finishing the ninth Harlan Coben book (I’ve read another book in the interim).

I’m not sure, but I believe this is the longest stretch of time without me sitting down and writing a blog.

It was a lovely break, but now I feel a little lost. I’m sitting at my desk, and for the first time in however long, I’m not writing my latest novel but another one of these fucking blogs.

Sorry for swearing.

Anyway, here I am, and let’s get on with it.

Harlen Coben and Me

This is the first time in a good while I’ve done one of these author and me sections, but it makes sense here more than ever before.

This is the first time I’ve done a review based around an author’s work, rather than a single book or a linked series.

In hindsight, this is something I should no doubt have done earlier. I split up my two Jack Reacher books and reviewed them separately but what was the point? They were both Jack Reacher. Considering them separately wasted paper.

What with having nine Harlan Coben books, the waste in separately reviewing these would have been even more significant.

At one point I considered splitting them between the Myron Bolitar series books (of which I have five) and the stand alones (four).

But let’s face it, even that would be pointless.

I love Harlan Coben, for reasons I will go into shortly, but let’s face it, his books are all pretty much the same (more on that later – it’s not a bad thing).

So, rather than handling each book separately and talking about the same things ad infinitum, I’m instead going to break the whole lot down into story, writing and characters and talk about them more generally.

What this means is I’m not going to spend much time talking about the specific plot points of any given book. It’d be a waste of time, and I’d probably spoil it anyway, but if that’s what you’re looking for maybe try somewhere else – such as the pages of the actual book.

And, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it.



When did I write the above? I don’t know. I think it might have been three weeks ago. Anyway, it’s now one day before my Steve Jobs blog comes out, and I’ve still not finished this one for Saturday.

My stomach is churning with stress just thinking about it, but it’s because I’ve been working so hard on my second James Perry book.

It’s no excuse, though. I committed to this challenge, and I can’t let it fall by the wayside now. I have to find a way to fit it in.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Tomorrow, probably.


The Stories

Okay, I’m back.

Harlen Coben stories almost all follow a similar premise which runs like this:

An ordinary man or woman is thrown into a mystery set off by a dark incident in the modern day (usually a murder, but not always). In investigating the mystery, they realise it is linked to some equally dark events from the past, though the link is not at first apparent.

At first glance, this might seem like a limiting set up, and perhaps it would be in the hands of a less talented author, but this is Harlen Coben.

Each of Harlen’s plots feels unique within the boundaries of the above, and, importantly, they are almost entirely unguessable.

I think, over the nine books, I had guessed one of the twists in just two of the books.

That’s right, one of the twists.

Coben’s stories are known for being twisty turny, and this is putting it mildly. Not only does pretty much every other chapter end in a reversal of expectations, but the story usually ends with about three separate twists, each one leading from the other, and each being equally shocking.

The continued uniqueness and unpredictability of the twists is what makes Harlen’s stories so outstanding.

The Writing

What I love most about Harlen’s books is how stripped back the prose is.

There is nothing flowery here. No bloated description, nothing non-plot relevant. Nothing at all, in fact, to slow the story down.

Pace is key. The stories whip by faster than almost anything I’ve read. Some passages are so stripped back they almost read like a screenplay, with lots of dialogue and very sparse description.

This could be difficult to follow in some hands, but luckily, these are Harlen’s hands.

He is a brilliant dialogtician (not a thing), and the pages flow.

The constant pace, the well-written dialogue, and the twists peppered throughout make all Coben books heart-pounding reads.

The Characters

Part of what makes Harlen’s dialogue so strong is the characters behind them.

The only recurring of these is Myron Bolitar who I spoke about to some degree in another of these blogs.

What I love about him is that he doesn’t follow the usual detective cliches.

He’s not an alcoholic, he doesn’t have a limp, and he lives with his parents well into his thirties.

Beyond that he is smart, tenacious and, most importantly, incredibly funny, boasting the classic sarcasm as a defence mechanism stick.

Myron is the greatest main character of all time.

All of Harlen’s main characters are, like his stories, similar. Mostly sarcastic, always intelligent, usually caring about family. They are all searching for similar things, but the nuances Harlen gives them makes them all individual.

As with his dialogue, all of Harlen’s characters are well written and memorable.

I’m not going into examples, so you’ll have to trust me.


Harlen Coben books are a mixture of well-written prose, incredible twists, gripping stories, unique characts telling jokes and speaking excellent dialogue.

There are few authors out there writing books so gripping, so good, and so something else complimentary as Harlen Coben.

If you haven’t read him yet, do it now, and apologise to my mother that you didn’t read them when she first suggested them.

Next Time

Next up we have another biography from England’s premier nerd, creator, writer and star of some of the best comedies going and start of top franchises such as Mission Impossible and Star Trek. 

Also he has a pet Nick Frost. 

That’s right, it’s Simon Pegg in Nerd Do Well.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: How to Think like Steve JobsMan vs Bookshelf: One year, three weeks and Simon Pegg >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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