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I've read and reviewed a few Coben novels now so I consider myself a fan and was happy to see a new one I hadn't already read in the library a few weeks ago. However, whilst this was still an engaging and enjoyable read, it lacked some of the intrigue and masterful writing I have become accustomed to from Coben.
On the cover we're told that this is "The unmissable new thriller from the 'master of the hook-and-twist'" and that it's the 'Number One Bestseller'. There's also a tagline to draw us in: 'Three people. A second chance to put things right'. This falls within the crime thriller genre and is predominantly set in Atlantic City and New Jersey. We're introduced to Megan, a suburban soccer mom with two kids, a husband and a house with a picket fence. Her life should be the dream lots of women aspire to, but it's far from the life she used to lead; the days gone by are ones she seems to have kept hidden from her husband, as if her past is a separate part of her, one that no longer exists. Meanwhile we also meet Ray, once a talented photographer, he now works for some two-bit company who hire him out to pretend to be a member of the paparazzi, just so the clients can feel like celebrities. Weird, but it's a job that just about pays the bills.
Something happens that throws Ray in to a plot that he can't fathom out and he has unwittingly become involved in something he can't at first imagine. It brings him to Megan, or rather, the Megan he used to know years ago. Meanwhile, there's another sides story running featuring Detective Broome, who can't let go of a cold case. The disappearance of a man left his wife unable to let go, unable to live fully without any answers. Broome wants to help but can't seem to get any new leads. As the storyline progresses, Ray, Megan and Broome meet in a mishmash of events, possibilities and suspicions. As these 3 lives start to interconnect, the past begins to reappear. Could the disappearance Broome is still hungering after to solve be linked to a string of other disappearance? Secrets begin to reveal themselves in a piecemeal fashion as disappearances, murder and heartache come to the forefront.
Enter Ken and Barbie, two rather unusual suspects who obviously have more evil agendas than their seemingly innocent exteriors suggest. We also meet with Broome's ex-wife, Erin, as Broome attempts to dig apart the most recent crimes that he thinks could be linked, potentially, to the cold case he still mourns for. Most recently is the disappearance of Carlton Flynn, and this guy brings us to a club called La Cremme; the club allows the varying characters to come together, a bit like spiders crawling to the middle of a web.
I won't say anymore on the premise because it would give too much away about what actually links the characters together, which forms part of the whole 'whodunnit' mystery. The premise itself was made unique by the characters and events, and there were a few twists along the way to shake things up. I couldn't have predicted from the outset quite what was happening or how the characters would eventually intertwine, so I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens.
The style of Coben's writing is something I have always enjoyed because he makes people and places three dimensional, and he is able to bring them to life quite well in Stay Close. You get a feel for who these people are, what motivates them and can thus empathise with their situation. You can also imagine where they are and this builds a good atmosphere, especially as events take darker turns. He's able to accumulate characters and suspicions without confusing us with names and places, keeping a relatively even pace for the most part. I didn't find myself becoming bored, nor did I find myself getting left behind. The style of writing wasn't, however, quite up to what I had hoped. I didn't always feel things were made to be too realistic or as palpable and gritty as they could have been. It just didn't gel quite right; rather than being fluidly written where you can get absorbed and keep reading because you start to believe in the characters and what's happening, I felt he left some of the characters a bit underdeveloped and the plot lacking a degree of credibility.
This novel just didn't really do for me what other Coben novels have. The ending felt rushed, almost like the author ran out of time and decided to throw things together and tie them up without too much thought or effort. That sounds rather harsh, but having held a decent pace until the end it seemed a shame to have it ruined. The storylines then seemed weaker; you hang on until the end to see how things piece together and suddenly they get thrown together without making much sense or fitting quite as you'd like to see because it was rushed.
On the back is further praise for Coben, including 'A tour-de-force... Satisfying on every level' - Booklist, 'An outstanding success... Coben cannot be faulted' - Sunday Epress, and 'One of the most consistently brilliant thriller writers' - Daily Mail. Unfortunately, I would disagree, though only slightly; I didn't think this was his best work and felt a little disappointed by the writing style in comparison to his other novels.
Overall, Stay Close still offers a fairly gripping and enjoyable read, I just felt disappointed compared to what I had expected from him. The rushed end, lack of depth to some characters and scenes, and weaker plot credibility mean I have to knock some stars off unfortunately as I think other Coben fans may be left wanting a little too.
RRP £7.99. Selling on Amazon for £3.85 (paperback, 416 pages)
Megan Pierce is a suburban wife and mother of two. Married to a good man, her life is just about perfect. However, Megan is hiding a dark secret about her past and it is one which she can't leave buried. You would think she'd be happy to leave behind her secret past as an exotic dancer where she went by the name of Cassie... but she can't. Something is drawing her back to her dark past in Atlantic City.
Ray Levine is a talented photographer. Seventeen years ago he had a promising future and fell in love with 'Cassie', but these days his job sees him making a marginal living pandering to celebrity-obssessed rich kids and drinking too much.
Detective Broome is nearing retirement, but he can't let go of a cold case.
Megan, Ray and Broome are three ordinary people who are about to discover that when the past refuses to stay buried, the American dream can be a nightmare...
Stay Close is a 2012 stand alone novel by one of my favourite authors, Harlan Coben. Ever since I picked up a copy of one of his earlier stand alone novels, 'Tell No One' a few years ago, I have been hooked on this author's work as he excels in my opinion at crime-thriller writing with plenty of trademark twists and shocks. He also pens the popular 'Myron Bolitar' series, but it is his stand alone novels which I prefer. Stay Close was released as a paperback earlier this year and I resisted the urge to delve straight into it when I bought a copy and instead managed to keep it to read when on holiday recently.
As is usual for me when I begin reading a Harlan Coben novel, I quickly become absorbed in the story and here with Stay Close it was no different. I prefer to read a book which draws you in from the first page, as if I am not intrigued by the end of the first chapter, I begin to lose interest.
The story begins with photographer Ray Levine out on a job. It is immediately plain to see that Ray's career hasn't panned out the way he once expected. His photography job is at the lower end of the scale and is one he derides no enjoyment from. After leaving a job one evening, Ray is attacked and his camera stolen. Fortunately Ray syncs his photographs to his computer and so is able to retrieve the photographs needed for his job. However, as he is on the computer looking through earlier photographs he had taken that day before his job, he sees something which makes him realise that the attacker had not been after the camera, they had been after a certain picture.
This opener is the first indication that a dark past is going to come back and affect the characters in this story, although the reader has no idea what the link is until later, as the story then changes to Megan Pierce and her surburban soccer-mum lifestyle, seeing her kids out to school. Then Megan receives a phone call from someone from her past, asking to meet. Megan heads back to Atlantic City and realises she misses her old seedy lifesyle. She has a life many people would be envious of, however she can't help but feel drawn to her old life and therefore stays longer than she really should.
Add to this the character of Detective Broome still haunted by a cold case and the opening elements are there to make another thriller with plenty of the usual Coben twists as the reader wonders how these characters are linked and what has happened in the past that is certainly going to affect their future.
As the story unfolds and the past is slowly revealed, I marvelled at Coben's knack of bringing everything together but still managing to keep the reader wondering right to the end exactly who is responsible for what and how it is all going to end. Once again I didn't manage to guess the ending, which is the sign of a good thriller for me personally and the writing was well paced throughout with plenty of tension. Indeed there are no endless, needless or boring descriptions in a Harlan Coben novel, he tells you what you need to know without spending too long delving into character's backgrounds.
Speaking of the characters, I must admit I didn't feel as close to them in this novel as I have with previous ones. The character of Megan Pierce I found there was little to like about and usually the main character of the story in a Coben novel I find I warm to, so this was different to the norm. Megan appears quite selfish and although you do see a warmer, softer side to her once or twice, it didn't seem to fit well with her overall character and therefore I found her irritating.
Despite this, all the characters were well developed and I found I warmed to Detective Broome more than anyone else and wouldn't mind seeing him make an appearance in another novel, as this is something which often happens in a Coben story! Speaking of which, I didn't think there was going to be any familiar characters making an appearance in this story, but there was a nice surprise towards the end when there was a nod to a couple of characters from other Coben novels, Loren Muse and Hester Crimstein, who will be familiar to those who have read some of Coben's previous stand alone novels.
I do wish maybe they had featured a little more here, but that is just a personal small niggle and doesn't detract from the story at all.
As is usual for me when reading a Harlan Coben novel, I found it difficult to put down and I read this book in two days. If I had not been on holiday then I maybe would have completed it in just one day which is testament to how much I enjoy his books as he is a master of the 'hook and twist'. He always manages to build the tension and suspense from the first page so you really struggle to put the book down.
Harlan Coben has delivered another good stand alone thriller in Stay Close. Although it is not my favourite book by him as I didn't enjoy the characters here as much as I have in previous novels, it is still superior to many crime thrillers I have read and therefore is still one I am more than happy to recommend.