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Just One Look - Harlan Coben

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Author: Harlen Coben / Genre: Fiction

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    8 Reviews
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      23.10.2011 12:58
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      One to get absorbed in, a good read for thriller fans

      I have read and reviewed books by Harlan Coben before and have really enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to this one. It was an enjoyable read, quite 'out there' in terms of an abstract plot, but a good crime thriller none the less that will keep you guessing.

      We're introduced to Grace Lawson, a woman happily married too her husband jack, with whom she has two kids. On a routine trip out, she collects some holiday snaps from the 'Photomat' (yup, this is American), and goes to pick her children up from school. What she wasn't expecting was to find an old-looking photo in the packet; perhaps it got dropped in by accident, but at least one face from this more youthful group of people looks slightly familiar to her. Jack. A strange coincidence doesn't seem as plausible anymore, especially when Jack goes missing that night after seeing the photo.

      Coben gradually unveils the history of these key characters; Grace was injured at a Jimmy X concert years ago after a gun shot triggered hysteria and led to a crush of people, with 18 children dying. The parents were in anguish, but Grace became a survivor, to whom many of the parents, including one by the name of Carl Vespa, came to identify with in the grief of their loss. Jack had a somewhat more blurred past; he'd ran away oversees for a while but the reason was unbeknown to Grace, though they'd met oversees and instantly hit it off.

      Back in the present and the police aren't taking Jack's disappearance as seriously as Grace would have hoped, as on the surface it doesn't appear that any foul play was involved. But bodies begin to surface, a killer by the name of Eric Wu is involved with his ninja-like skills and the trial of the man who started the commotion at the Jimmy X gig is back in the limelight hoping to be released from jail. Could all of this be connected?

      I won't go into any more detail, but suffice to say, it's not a straightforward plot. I know that things didn't start to properly fit into place for a while, and even when they did, something changed and the course of explanations was derailed again. Even the epilogue provides another twist of events, so I would advise reading that too.

      The style of writing was one that was absorbing and easy to read. The characters felt identifiable and although the plot was reasonably complex, I didn't get lost in a mass of characters and potential explanations; Coben was able to keep a good pace without moving too fast and confusing the reader.

      Having said that, I couldn't help but feel the ending was slightly rushed. I didn't necessarily find the final explanation of events wholly believable, but it was easy enough to go along with. It was the way that things changed so quickly, that made it feel like there were a limited number of pages Coben could fill and he was running out towards the end. Although, that does mean that things weren't dragged out more than necessary, so it depends on your view of it. I still found the book very enjoyable and interesting to read, and I was eager to pick it back up from where I felt off to get my next fix of action and mystery.

      More praise for the book can be found on the front cover: 'Superbly crafted, high adrenaline entertainment' - The Times, along with 'Bestselling author of Tell No One and No Second Chance'. More is found on the back, including 'A much better writer than Grisham' - Daily Telegraph, and 'This twisty thriller is one of the best thrillers you'll read this year. No one - but no-one - is whom they seem' - FHM.

      362 pages over 54 chapters (370 including epilogue, which should be read as it clarifies more than I had expected!)

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        17.08.2011 11:51
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        Decent as a free book, am glad I didn't buy it

        I'm a great fan of crime books. I enjoy the 'edge of your seat' nature of some of the contributions of authors like David Baldacci, John Grisham and others. I am quite fussy in what I like in a book, and judging from the other reviews of this particular one, I am sticking my neck out by saying I didn't like it.

        The book was free from o2 rewards so it didn't cost anything. I hadn't read anything by Harlan Coben although I had heard of him and was aware that his books were popular. Hence the reason for selecting this book from the few on offer. It is a paperback of 387 pages long. The version I have varies from the one pictured above and has a pink toned cover with a picture of some stairs on the front.

        The story takes us into the world of Grace Lawson. She is married to Jack and has two children Emma and Max. The tale starts as she collects a pack of photographs from the developer. In amongst the photographs is a photograph that she doesn't recognise, of five people, one of which is her husband. She confronts her husband that evening and he disappears out into the night and doesn't return. She contacts the police, who don't believe her story and are quite sceptical about the circumstances of her husbands disappearance.

        We learn Grace's back story. She was in the crowd at a concert and was crushed in the crowd when a gunshot rung out, injuring her leg badly, so she walks with a limp. Many people died in the crush, and we learn that despite the years later, she still has a link to some of the parents of those who died. At the same time, we are introduced to 'the bad guy' who uses violent techniques to incapacitate his victims. This particular character lends a creepy quality to the book, and you wonder what he is going to do next.

        The story plays out, and more and more characters are introduced, some are red herrings in the eventual explanation, while others are more central to the story. The police start to take notice of Grace's plight, but largely she is left to try to find her husband alone, while keeping herself and her children safe. I won't give away anything else as I don't want to spoil the story but I personally didn't enjoy the book. I felt there were too many twists and incidental events that didn't fit with the overall story. It does all come together in the end, but I was left with a feeling of disapointment for how it all played out.

        Normally when I get into a book I finish it really quickly, particularly when I am caught up in the story. It took me a week or so to read this book which is unusual as I normally like to plough through a good crime story. I don't think I would go out of my way to read another book by this author.

        Thanks for reading my review which may appear on other sites.

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        03.08.2010 10:43
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        Another Harlan Coben must-read

        'Just one Look' is the second book by author Harlan Coben that I bought based on a recommendation by a fellow reviewer, and just like my introduction to this award winning thriller writer I found myself becoming engrossed in the story which well and truly captured my imagination. One first glance at the description on the back of the book you would be forgiven for thinking that the storyline is going to to be quite simplistic and indeed the story begins with a seemingly random event.

        We discover that life for Grace Lawson is about to turn upside down when she picks up some holiday photographs and notices one that doesn't belong. A group of five people are pictured in the erroneous snap and one of the figures she thinks she recognises as her husband, Jack but as the picture is old and appears to have been taken from over a decade ago she cannot be sure. The other people are strangers to Grace and mystified by its appearance she assumes that someone is playing a bizarre joke on her and waits for Jack to return home so she can quiz him about her strange discovery. The photograph is more significant than Grace could ever realise and its unexplainable appearance begins a chain of events that she could never have predicted. Kidnapping, life threatening danger and a furious fight to unearth the truth are told in the novels 386 pages and once Grace begins to look deeper into her own past as well as her husbands it soon becomes clear that she is an unwilling catalyst for what is about to take place.

        One of the key strengths of this story in my opinion is the fact that the plotline focuses around this one out-of-place item and how the most innocent looking of things can have such a devastating effect on Grace and her family. There are questions that spring to mind as soon as this discovery takes place which are explored and explained as the novel goes on and what starts off as a curious mystery turns into something a lot more sinister. Harlan Coben manages to take a single item and create a whole world around it as the multi-layered plot introduces characters and connections that are all interweaved with one another and we slowly learn the answers to the questions that are posed throughout the storyline.

        The book manages to engage you and draw you into the world of Grace and her family and you want them to be alright, you join her as she is faced with trying to work out what is happening and share her shock when revelations are revealed. There are multiple surprises in 'Just one Look' that I didn't see coming and the final 30-40 pages are among some of the most jaw-droppingly good I have ever read and whilst you may think that you have some of the answers you won't have them all and the twists and turns are a joy to discover.

        I only have one other book to compare this to by the same author and this time his writing style seems to different here; In 'Tell no One', the first book I read, I noticed and commented in my other review that Cobens sentences were short and snappy, this for me pushed the plot forward and gave it momentum, here there are many more descriptive passages which flesh out the characters and provide a back story and history. This really works in this book as you feel that you 'know' everyone and as the cast of characters is bigger than in Tell no One the added detail is needed so you can understand why they do what they do as anything less would render them as one-dimensional and ultimately you wouldn't care what happened to them.

        This is a standalone novel so would be a perfect place to start if you are new to the author and even though there are references to characters that appear in other books (there are two here who are featured in 'Tell no One') you don't need to know them as their inclusion is explained. For me this gave the book added interest and it was a nice touch having characters who we have 'met' before even if one of them was just included in a fleeting reference. Another observation I made in the two books that I have now read is that Coben doesn't rely on cheap tricks to shock his readers, there is no bad language whatsoever in the book and no sexual references or activity - his storylines are so well conceived and delivered that he doesn't need to be controversial or deliberately shocking and the story benefits from being told without the need to offend. That doesn't mean that the book is somehow diluted though, there are descriptions of violent acts contained within the pages which may be considered strong by some, however the book is intended for adults and any violence that is described is there for the plot and not just for the sake of it.

        Overall I found this to be a superb and compelling read which I managed to get through in the space of 2 days, I had distractions this time which meant I couldn't give the book my full attention when I first started to read it so I had to come back to it a day later to finish it off, had the circumstances been right then this would have been another 'read in one sitting' as I really didn't want to put the book down once I started it. This was just as good as the first book I read by Harlan Coben and in some ways better thanks to the intricate storyline and the remarkable ending and will receive another five star rating from me.

        I paid around £4.00 for my new paperback copy of this book from Amazon Market Place (including p&p) and there are various options when it comes to purchasing it from prices ranging from £0.01 for a second hand, used copy up to the cover price of £6.99 if you buy offline. However you buy it I can't see it disappointing you and if you are already familiar with the author then this is a required purchase. It was first released in 2004 so has been available a while now but as I explained in my other review I have only just been introduced to the books of this author so am at the moment playing catch up.

        In conclusion then if you want a book that will deliver a whole host of twist, turns and surprises then Just One Look will tick all those boxes for you, it comes highly recommended by me and I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. Thanks for reading my review please note that this may also appear on ciao under my username.

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          06.07.2009 13:55
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          One of Coben's best books yet.

          I am currently working my way through all the books I can get my hands on by Harlan Coben. Since borrowing one of his books from my daughter, I have been hooked. I love it when I find a new author to like!

          'Just One Look' is the most recent one I have read. In fact I took it on holiday with me last month and read it in two days! I would have read it in a day if I had been at home, as I found it hard to put down. The only problem was, by reading it so quickly I had nothing left to read for the rest of my holiday!

          The story centres around Grace Lawson. Happily married to husband Jack, and mum to their two children, her contented world is thrown into turmoil when she collects a set of photographs she had taken to be developed.
          Ignoring friends teasing that she should 'get with it' and enjoy the digital age, by using a digital camera, selecting and printing photo's of your choice etc, Grace still prefers to take a film into the shop to be developed. Enjoying the anticipation and element of surprise on opening up your packet of prints.

          Well she certainly gets a surprise, when on picking up her photographs she finds a photograph that does not belong there. It appears to be an old photograph of a group of friends, one of which looks like her husband, Jack, but the other people Grace does not recognise. Also a girl in the photograph has a cross marked over her face.
          She shows the photograph to her husband, who asks where she got it from, but denies he is the man in the photograph.

          Later that night, when Grace is in bed, she hears Jack leave the house and drive off. She presumes he has gone to the shop, as he often does late at night, however, Jack does not return.

          In the days that follow, Grace becomes increasingly confused and worried about her husband's disappearance and reports it to the police who at first are not very helpful. Grace turns detective herself and sets about trying to find her missing husband, while struggling to achieve an air of normality for the sake of her children, while unaware she herself is being targeted by a killer!

          As is usual with a Harlan Coben novel, the plot isn't that simple and there are many twists and turns before it reaches it's surprising conclusion. It is packed with characters and a couple of sub-plots, which draw you in quickly.

          What I found while reading this was I was beginning to doubt everyone and their motives. From Grace's best friend, to Grace herself!
          We are also re-introduced to Eric Wu, an evil assassin, who is a martial arts expert and can kill someone with just one touch. Eric Wu, I find, is quite a scary character who featured in a previous novel 'Tell No One', and was as equally scary in this one!

          Another character, who offered to assist Grace in her attempts to find her husband, and uncover the truth about the photograph, is Mafia boss, Carl Vespa. Carl met Grace when visiting her in hospital years earlier after she was badly injured, but survived a rock concert where Carl's only son died.
          Carl is very bitter about the death of his son, and all is not quite as it seems, although my guesses about him and where the plot was leading, were totally wrong!

          Other characters, include Assistant US Attorney Scott Duncan, who has his own motives for helping Grace, and contacts her after a convicted killer suddenly requests to see him and confessess to killing his sister over 20 years ago, and Charmaine, a parent who has a child at the same school as Grace's children, and is finding out herself that strange things are happening in her usually quiet neighbourhood.

          You just know while reading this book, that the sub-plots will all tie in with the main plot at some point, and the suspense builds and builds as I can guarantee you will be trying to guess how it will all come together and what will happen.
          If you're anything like me, however, you will be totally wrong, and that is what I love most about reading Harlan Coben novels, as I hate to read a book where I can guess the ending early on.

          Secrets from the past slowly unfold as Grace uncovers some things she did not know about her husband, and what really happened at the rock concert she attended all those years ago.
          Where is her husband? Who are the other people on the photograph? Who placed the photograph in the packet? Why is Grace being followed? Are her friends really all they seem? And is Grace hiding a few secrets herself?

          'Just One Look' is another masterpiece from Harlan Coben, which once you start reading you will not want to put it down until you reach the end!
          It is available from Amazon UK priced at £4.99 new ( RRP £6.99). I bought my copy brand new from an Ebay seller for £2.00.

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            19.05.2009 10:17
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            I'd pick up a Harlan Coben again if it is written anything like this...

            Grace has the so-called perfect life; a happy artist, mum of two and an adoring husband. This all changes one day when she collects her photographs and finds one that doesn't belong in her pack. On closer inspection Grace finds that the picture is of her husband as a much younger man.
            When Grace shows the picture to her husband, it is clear that it has struck a cord. He leaves the house - and doesn't return. The police believe he has just left her for another woman but Grace just knows that there is something terribly wrong connecting her husband with the people in the picture, and she sets about trying to find the truth - putting her and her children's life in danger in the process.

            My Thoughts
            ==========

            Right off the bat, I have to say this was a truly magnificent book. It is not often that I read books of this genre, but I do have a faint recollection of reading a Coben book in the past and enjoying it.

            With this book, there is no hanging about; we are thrust right in to the action and I was totally engrossed from the very first page. There wasn't anything about this book that I didn't like; the plot was fascinating, gripping, fast paced and full of suspense. The character development was superb; Grace, who is trying to find out why her husband has disappeared, has her own back story which is interesting in itself and is slowly developed and entwined in to the main story, plus I admired her strength, determination and devotion to her husband and children. As well as this, Coben created a thrilling and terrifying character in Eric Wu, a man who is able to paralyse a man bigger than himself by just pushing down on a certain vertebrae. The sections with Wu were well thought out; I was completely chilled by his unemotional ways and I held my breath during the description of his violence which were detailed and interesting and I was thoroughly absorbed with the whole thing.

            As for the plot, it was actually quite detailed and complicated, but all credit to Coben, it is so well written that the storyline was easy to understand and it still had a sense of believability. The twists and turns were incredible and gave the book a great sense of urgency and suspense. Once you had thought you had worked something out about the storyline, you would find that your idea of what was going on was completely wrong. The storyline was unravelled so carefully, clues are thrown about everywhere throughout - the carrot was dangled just in front of me and then snatched away at the last minute, leaving me wanting to find out more! Right up to the final pages, I found that Coben had more plot twists up his sleeve that I hadn't seen coming and the action was just relentless.


            A short review (for me!) on this book because I cannot think of one thing that I didn't like and there is nothing that I can criticise about it. It isn't the usual type of book I would read so I can't claim to be an expert in this genre - but the books pages literally turned themselves I was so engrossed!
            This book hit all the right notes for me - it had an interesting and courageous "hero" (even better then that she is a woman!), a complicated but interesting plot, it was well written enough to keep me on the edge of my seat, and most importantly it had twists upon twists upon twists. For me, this book epitomises what this genre is about, I was thrilled and pleased with how much I enjoyed this and I cannot recommend it enough.

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              13.05.2009 12:57
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              A great book

              This was the second book by Harlan Coben that I have read and I enjoyed it as much as the previous one "The Woods"

              Main Characters
              ============
              Grace Lawson - an artist who was injured and left with the effects of her injuries which happened during a stampede at a rock concert in her teens

              Jack Lawson - Grace's husband who has shunned his family and disappears at the start of the book after being shown a phot which appears mysteriously in the photo's grace collects from the store.

              Eric Wu - the baddie of the book who attcks and kills an number of people in the book (not too much detail here I don't want to spoil anything).

              My Opinion
              ========
              This book is a really good thriller and puzzle in a book. It will have you guessing from the moment you start reading - how did that happen? Where did he go? How could he do that? It will keep you guessing and guessing. You may think you have it sussed towards the end but I can guarentee that by the time all the twists and turns are complted - when you turn that last page you will still go - I didn't see that coming!!!

              This was a great read and a book I will probably read again now I know the story to try and understand the start a bit better.

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              28.10.2008 12:52
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              Another excellent thriller from Coben's pen

              Being a fan of Harlan Coben and an avid follower of the adventures of his main character, Myron Bolitar, the sports agent/private investigator with a quick wit and scary friends, I jump at the chance to get my teth into something a bit different with the author. His series of Bolitar novels are very good, but it is his stand alone novels that I consider to be a better quality of tale, and find them very hard to put down.

              Just One Look is one such book. Published in 2004, it tells the tale of Grace Lawson, happily married with children. When she picks up a bunch of holiday photos, she sees one that doesn't fit - one that is out of place and shows her husband Jack many years ago and in a different light. Confusion sets in even further when Jack goes missing, and Grace discovers that someone is after her and her family.

              Coben briefly describes Grace's history to us - she was rendered unconscious at a rock concert 15 years previously and her memory is blurred. The revelation of Jack going missing and the mysterious photo does nothing to calm her, but it sends alarm bells ringing, and as she begins to realise the people in the photo are nearly all dead, she begins to realise something deeply embedded in the past is coming back to haunt Jack, and sets out to protect herself and her family and find Jack before it's too late.

              Coben grabs us from the first page and doesn't let go. This is perhaps his most mysterious book, and as with his others, he gives us plot twist after plot twist to keep us interested. The writing style is very easy to read, although I am used to this as the crime thriller genre is my preferred style, and I am a fan of similar authors such as James Patterson and Michael Connelly. A few pages shy of 400, this book isn't too long but gives us enough to sink our teeth into and start our thinking cells working overtimes to try and decipher the clues Coben leaves throughout the book. The final twist is one that can be worked out, but I find it's more fun to not deliberately do so - otherwise I'd spoil it for myself. However, with Coben in particular, I find it hard to not try and work everything out, so close is that dangling carrot left by the author.

              The book ends in a satisfatcory manner. Many such books have the capacity to peter out and taper off a bit too prematurely, leaving me a bit disappointed, but Coben answers all the questions he poses, and does it well, too. There are a lot of characters to deal with, so take your time and don't rush it or you may get confused. Just One Look retails for £6.99, but it's worth having a trawl around the charity shops to find a bargain or looking online.

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                17.01.2007 10:13
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                A thrilling read that has a couple of problems

                Have you ever wondered what could happen to you at a rock concert? Masses of people all jammed into a single arena. I for one was convinced that I would be stabbed by some deranged drunk – off their head on crystal meths. Turns out that ‘The Beautiful South’ have a delightful set of fans that, judging by the age group, are more likely to cut you a slice of their homemade cake than your face. The characters in ‘Just One Look’ were not so lucky. Harlan Coben explores what occurs during a tragedy as well as the aftermath that could echo for years.

                15 years ago Grace Lawson was crushed in a mass panic during a rock concert when a gunshot is heard. Now she has stumbled across an old photo that shows her husband with a group of people all who have gone missing or died. With her husband suddenly disappearing Grace realises that the photo has come back from the past to haunt them. Can she uncover the mystery behind the photo and any link between to the fateful night that occurred so many years ago? By discovering who was responsible for the gunshot Grace could uncover a murderer or be killed herself.

                I have read several books that see mothers put in jeopardy and the theme that runs through them is that – if you are a bad guy, harm the women and you may succeed, but do not threaten her kids. Grace Lawson is written as one such character and is the central figure that makes this book appealing. Grace is a young mother who when younger had to overcome horrific injuries. This makes her love for life, and her family, a lot stronger.

                If Coben had written a book just about Grace it would have felt flat. However, in ‘Just One Look’ Coben has managed to create a mystery and a character that brings out the best in Grace’s character. A mysterious killer is after information and has just come out of jail. As a youth he specialised in torture techniques and the use of the human body as a weapon. It turns out that he has been hired by someone to kidnap Grace’s husband to discover the truth about events from his past. Grace must fight against this evil man to win back her family.

                Running parallel to Grace’s story is a series of events that come together to make a great mystery. There are far further reaching powers involved than just an ex-con and a housewife. Coben is excellent at creating an interweaving story that, although complicated, is easy to follow. The fast twists and turns in the book and the well written characters make this a really fun book to read. If this book had been written by a lesser author it could easily be very average, but due to the style and ability to keep several threads going Coben makes this a thrilling ride.

                There are a few negative aspects and these come about due to the sheer amount of characters and storylines in the book. As Grace is such a good character the reader is not drawn into the back-story of the other characters. Some of the characters are not particularly good especially the husband and Grace’s mysterious backer. A final criticism would be that the conclusion is not as satisfactory as the book would seem to be heading towards. By having so many things going on Cohen has forced himself to create a conclusion that deals with every thread. The book would probably have ended stronger if there had been less characters and more concentration placed in Grace’s roles in events. It is unfortunate that she is left to the sidelines for large parts of the latter pages.

                This book is certainly not very deep, but is good for fans of lighter thrillers. It is not too violent and the characters are likeable enough. With such a good central character, with a rich an interesting past, it is unfortunate that the book ends by concentrating on those we do not care so much about.

                Author: Harlan Coben
                Price: amazon uk - £5.59
                play.com - £5.49

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