After last weeks disappointment with ‘Silence’, I needed this week’s book to provide a lift.
I needed something fun, funny, fast-paced and exciting.
In short, I needed Harlen Coben.
Harlan Coben and Me
In a move that Harlan himself described as “Christmas come early” I mentioned Coben in one of my previous blogs.
It was in my Cuckoo’s Calling blog, and I described him as the only writer of murder mystery type stories I read.
Mum recommended him – well, his character – to me.
She knew I didn’t like mysteries but implored me to pick up the first Myron Bolitar book, saying I would love it.
I took some convincing.
Not because I worried mum might be wrong, thus wasting my time, but because I worried she would be right.
I had already insisted I would not enjoy any murder mysteries, and I did not want her proving me wrong.
I hate being wrong.
Still, in the end, I did read the first Bolitar book.
I can’t remember what finally made me decide to do so, but I did, and I loved it.
The story was sharp, the mystery good, the plot rocketed along.
Most importantly, the characters were brilliant.
I have Bolitar books on my shelf so I won’t say too much, but that Myron, Win and Esperanza are all fantastic.
I went on to read almost every Myron Bolitar book and acquired a few other Coben’s. Including Six Years, although I never read, to my recollection, any of the non-Myron books.
Until, that is, the past year or so, as I tried to clear down my bookshelf and before this challenge.
In finally reading these books I could see they were much like the Myron Bolitar books.
It was for that reason I suspected I would find Six Years easy to get through and would love every page of it.
I was not disappointed.
Read from 02/12/2017 to 04/12/2017
The back jacket of my version of Six Years describes it as a romance/ murder mystery mix. This is pretty close to the mark.
Six Years is the story of a man who fell in love with a girl faster than I finish a Dominos pizza, only for her to marry someone else.
Upon attending the wedding, she makes him promise to leave her alone, he agrees, and we jump to six years later.
Our professor main character, Jake, is a man of his word and has left Natalie alone.
Until, that is, he sees her husband’s obituary on his university website.
Drawn by a weird morbid curiosity and love he has never let go of, he attends the funeral. Half hoping to see Natalie.
But, when he arrives and sees husband Todd’s wife, he is shocked to find it’s not Natalie.
Worse, no one seems to have heard of Natalie, and there is no record of the wedding taking place.
Cue our lovesick hero going to great lengths to discover what happened to Natalie, and where she is now.
Along the way, people from all corners try to kill him as he begins to unravel the mystery. But he never gives up, determined that, whatever happens, he will find the truth about Natalie.
This is not a PI but a man who has thrown into a mystery by circumstance – sketchy circumstance in this case.
He eschews most detective traits by having no discernible flaws.
He’s a professor at a university but has no interest in sleeping with his students (no, I don’t see why else you’d become one, either). He never betrays his friends. He’s not an alcoholic. He’s unwaveringly good-hearted and determined to do the right thing and he only ever kills in self-defence.
His only weakness, I suppose, is love. The fact he has fallen head over heels for someone he only knew a couple of months. Not to mention he hasn’t stopped thinking about her for six years after she married someone else.
These are the actions of a maniac.
His need to find out what happened to her and rationalise his ridiculous love ends up putting people in danger, but he never backs out.
Still, I liked him.
He’s clever, and tenacious without seeming like a superhero far removed from us normal folk.
He’s one of us. Just with less cynicism, an ability to love over many years and no desire to sleep with his students.
In the end, I would rate him well worth following throughout the book.
This is a classic Harlen mystery.
It moves at breakneck pace. There are twists and turns aplenty. And you never really know what is going on until you are finally told.
It also involves plenty of shooting and action, making it as much an adventure story as a mystery.
It draws you in, without doubt, and the exciting nature of it makes you forgive some of the sillier aspects.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be careful in what I say, but I suppose the reason Natalie is missing turns out to be a little silly to me.
That’s not to say it doesn’t work. Cohen brings together numerous plot points brilliantly in revealing the truth. But a lot of it seems quite convenient, and quite unrealistic, within the context.
Still, the ending works, and in a story as exciting and fast-paced as this, we let Coben get away with a little heightened, unrealistic reveal, in a way we might not always.
So the mystery was good, more than a match for the detective.
Obviously, all writers have a style, and as much as anything else, this is written like a Harlen Coben book. In his voice, using his pace, etc. etc.
But more than that, there are some real Coben devices here that are often reused throughout his books.
Firstly the setup.
All stories like this start with someone who has their world shattered by something innocuous.
But beyond this, Coben’s characters tend to be middle class, well educated and, more often than not, tall. They can usually fight and, as discussed below, have a higher than normal propensity for love.
Harlem Coben is a real love freak.
Myron Bolitar is completely in love with Jessica, even though she broke his heart. He has unrealistic expectations about a romantic relationship. Perhaps because his parents are together and happy (although so are mine and I’m still cynical)
Harlan’s one-off characters tend to be as lovesick and Jake is no exception.
His complete and unwavering love for Natalie drives him. Remember, this is a girl he dated for a couple of months. Who then dumped him with a note saying she was marrying an old flame – leaving him a wedding invite at the same time.
Yet, for some reason, he never stops thinking about her – even after six years – and when her husband dies, he goes straight out looking for her.
That’s not normal love.
That is Harlen Coben, unconditional, unrealistic, unsustainable love.
And, finally, humour.
This is last but certainly not least.
The reason I fell in love with Coben books was because of the sarcastic, laugh out loud humour of Myron Bolitar.
The way his fear in the face of death would reveal itself in inappropriate jokes at the worst time. I loved that.
Coben’s characters all have a certain degree of this, and Jake is no different. He, and his best friend, often crack off jokes that are worth a laugh or two, even when it isn’t appropriate (for them).
It’s this humour, as well as the fast-paced mysteries, that make me want to pick up a Harlen Coben book and, as usual, it did not disappoint here.
A breakneck plot, a clever mystery, plenty of twists and turns, a funny main character, an easy read.
All these factors contribute to making a solid 4/5 book on Goodreads.
Another great read from Harlen Coben.
Next time we’re jumping into children’s book territory.
It’s an author I’ve spoken about before, and one I’ve my favourites.
Darren Shan, with, The Thin Executioner.
See you then.