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Harlan Coben has fast become one of my favourite authors since I discovered his work about a year ago. He writes thrillers that I simply cannot put down, and always I find I am left guessing right until the end, as his plots are full of suspense and twists and turns which make for an engaging read.
'The Innocent' is one of Coben's stand alone novels, and the story centres around Matt Hunter, a generally decent guy, who has successfully got his life back on track after a tragic incident in his youth, which saw him sent to prison after intervening in a fight whilst at college.
Matt was trying to diffuse a situation at a college party which gets out of control :- a grab to the neck, a fall and a crack of a skull on the pavement, saw him ending up on charges of manslaughter.
It was an accident, but Matt certainly pays for it.
Years later, Matt is working as a paralegal at his brother's law firm, and very happily married to Olivia, who has just discovered she is pregnant. Life couldn't be better for Matt.
That is until his wife goes away on a business trip. Matt has recently bought camera phones for them both so that they can keep in touch.
Matt is at work one day when he receives a video message from Olivia's mobile phone, and is shocked to see a video of his wife with another man in a hotel room.
This starts a chain of events, threatening phone calls from a mystery man, and the realisation that Matt doesn't actually know exactly where his wife is!
Is Olivia having an affair, and why won't she speak to him? Who is ringing him and harrassing him? Matt suddenly finds his life is in turmoil once again.
I found the character of Matt was developed very well. A likeable guy looking to re-build his life and put the past behind him.
I found myself suspicious of his wife Olivia from the start, even though it seemed she doted on her husband, and they both have pasts which they want to put behind them.
Maybe this is down to my suspicious female mind, as well as Coben's writing, but nothing was as clear cut as I initially thought it was in my mind, and I found myself to be questioning my judgement of character.
Also in this book we are re-introduced to county investigator Loren Muse, who has featured in some of Coben's other stand alone novels.
You often find with Coben's novels that certain characters, from villains to private investigators, often crop up again in another book.
Coben develops his characters so well, I find this is another plus point for me when reading his novels, as it is nice to meet up with these characters again.
Loren Muse is a strong character, something of a tom-boy and very likeable. I like the way her character develops and we gain a little insight into her private life and past also.
The sub-plot of the book sees Loren has being asked to investigate when a nun is murdered.
Investigations then reveal a link between the nun and Matt's sister-in-law, leaving Loren wondering if this is in anyway linked to Matt's situation.
Both the plot and sub-plot weave together very well, and as with all Coben's novels, things are never what they seem, and a few twists and turns are in store before the book reaches its conclusion, which I never predicted.
This is one of the reasons why I love reading Harlan Coben novels as I can never predict the endings. He has a great talent for making the reader believe they have sussed how the story will pan out, only to provide a few twists to leave you totally surprised by the outcome.
Even though I have now come to expect this when reading a Coben novel, it does not detract in any way from my enjoyment of the book. I much prefer to read a book where I cannot predict the ending.
Overall I found the plot to be a little bit more complicated than some of his other novels, and because of this I read the final few chapters of the book in one sitting, as it does require concentration. I always find it hard to tear myself away from Coben's novels anyway!
However, it all fits together, and once again I was left thinking, how clever Coben is at providing a number of twists which all come together at the end.
I don't know how he does it, but it makes for an page-turning read every time.
If you have read any of Harlan Coben's books then this is up there with the best of them. If not, and you like a good thriller then introduce yourself to this author!
The Innocent is currently available from Amazon priced at £5.59. You can also find copies crop up on Ebay also.
I have read a couple of Coben's books now and I am still not sure whether I like the author or not. This book leaves me with the same feeling, yet I have another on my shelf waiting.
It is certainly not a short story at nearly 440 pages yet it does not quite have the structure and end 'piece' that one would expect with a book of this length.
Okay, before I go any further with the analysis, I had better tell you a bit of what it is all about.
We have a former all college football (American) star that gets into a stupid fight and serves time for manslaughter. He is basically good, always has been and we see him some years after his release, happily settled with his partner; they both very much in love, she pregnant, they looking for a new house to settle into in his old, childhood neighbourhood.
Seemingly unrelated we have the murder of a nun in the same town, being investigated by a local DA office official, who just happens to have been a school friend of Matt, as is one of the local cops, who clearly has it in for Matt.
We also have a parallel tale of strippers, blackmail and murder, hundreds of miles away that is somehow related to all this.
To top all this we have a shady character following Matt and then he gets a strange phone call on his mobile phone (I refuse to call it a 'cell').
Okay that is it for the plot as to say anymore would give it away and make things a little obvious.
This is actually where the whole book falls down, for whilst the plot and twists are not immediately obvious, by about halfway through they are and that kind of makes a lot of what follows redundant. Don't get me wrong, there are one or two twists, but they are hardly surprising and certainly not shocking. On top of that, the 'structure' does not really allow these sub plots to develop well enough, they are too subservient to the main plot.
Now my wife has read this, and a friend, both of feel it is a good read and enjoyable...yet on further questioning they could not tell me more than two characters, anything but the main plot, nor the end sequences in any detail. So it is not memorable.
This is a shame as the book could have been so much more; some of the minor characters could have been developed, more tension could easily have been added and a few more twists would have been good.
The style of writing is not as good as some of Coben's books and there is not the level of description and/or scene setting that make it interesting enough. I struggled to finish this book and 'persevered' over two weeks, wish I hadn't. Plain and simple it is a (mild) thriller story, simply told. That is not enough for me.
I am going to leave my next Coben book on the shelf for a while; this was a depressingly bad read and could have been so much better.
Harlan Coben has developed a good name fro himself as one of the top crime thriller authors around at the moment. His character Myron Bolitar appears in the majority of his novels, but he has written a few stand alone novels, and I find these to be excellent. The Innocent is one such book, and Coben gives us another damaged character in Matt Hunter, an ex con trying to rebuild his life in the face of adversity.
Coben explores a bit of the bad boy element here in The Innocent. Matt Hunter was involved in a nasty accident 4 yeasr previously, a struggle that resulted in someone dying from banging their head against the concrete ground. Four years on, Matt emerges from prison having served his time, and sets himself back straight again with a job and a woman to keep him out of trouble. However, someone is determined to make his life a living hell, and no matter how much Matt tries to just get on with his life, someone won't let him, and he soon finds out that he can trust no one.
I liked the way that Coben mixes things up in his books. Bolitar is full of wit and humour, yet his stand alone novels are always very serious and tense. The Innocent gives us a brief insight into the life of an ex-con and the struggles he encounters when trying to make his way in the world afterwards. The characterisation is very cleverly done, and you get a good impression of most of the characters introduced to us in the book.
Verging on 450 pages in length, Coben gives us enough room to develop the characters in our heads whilst constantly keeping us guessing as to their true nature and making us as readers not trust anyone, essentially putting us in Matt's shoes. The book is easy to read and Coben does away with long descriptive passages, concentrating instead on a fast paced action thriller. This makes it all the more enjoyable, as I feel more description would have detracted from the story as opposed to adding to its quality.
As it is, it's a gripping story that doesn't let you go. I found it very hard to put down, which is testament to a good book in my opinion. The Innocent retails at £6.99, but it's worth having a look online or in charity shoips for a cheaper deal.
I got this book free from the Thriller Club, and frankly after reading the last one I got free, I didn't hold out much hope that this would be any good. I figured they probably palmed off all the rubbish on people as free gifts and this would be no better, but I couldn't have been more wrong!
The story is about Matt Hunter, an ex-con who spent 4 years in prison for what was essentially a tragic accident. After leaving prison he's got his life back on track. He has a good job and a wife who loves him. But now he's being followed. Someone threatens to ruin the 'normal' life Matt's worked so hard to build. He doesn't know who he can trust as he tries to figure out who's out to get him, and more importantly, why.
The story is very well written, told in the third person, and focussing on many different characters along the way. We're introduced to people from Matt's past, all who seem to have strong opinions about him based on his ex-con status. We're also introduced to various law enforcement officers, as well as Matt's friends and co-workers.
The characters are all well developed, and we learn more and more about each of their backgrounds as the story progresses. The story has several different threads tied together, each one having a 'main' character that I felt myself connect with and perhaps warm to as I learnt more about them.
The story was gripping right the way through as I felt myself always wanting to know more. There were a lot of plot twists, and none of them were expected. Coben really keeps you guessing all the way through, and when you think you've got it all figured out, something happens or there's a revelation that just throws you right back off track. I don't think I've ever read a book that was this unpredictable.
All in all I thought this was a thrilling read, and a real page-turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, and I'd happily recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers. The cover price is £6.99, but it's currently selling on Amazon at £4.99.
How long do you have to pay for a simple mistake, and accident? Is it something that will haunt you your entire life? Or will there be a point in time when life will give you a break, tell you that you have suffered enough, let you move on with your life and be happy?
Matt Hunter was a young man with a promising future ahead of him. A quiet fellow, he never got into trouble. But one night, at a fraternity party, his friend spills a bit of beer on someone's windbreaker jacket . And this leads to a fight. As Matt is trying to do the right thing by asking the "fighters" to give his friend a break, he finds himself embroiled in a situation that spirals out of control. A grab to a neck, a fall, a crack of a skull on the pavement, a lifeless body. Next thing you know, Matt is brought into court on manslaughter charges and hauled off to jail for four years. For an accident, nothing more, nothing less. And he sure pays for it in jail - being beaten to a pulp time and time again.
Now that he is out of jail, things seem to have turned for the better. He works as a paralegal at a prestigious law firm in Newark. He's good at what he does, essentially doing all the legal work behind the scenes that the partners then take credit for. And he's got a beautiful wife, Olivia, who just discovered that she is pregnant. Sure, he still gets suspicious looks and people don't always want him around. But life is looking up for Matt. Or is it? Suddenly his wife is on a business trip - and it transpires that he has no clue where she is. And then someone seems to be following him, harassing him - threatening his new-found life and happiness. Is his world going to spiral out of control once again? Or will he solve the mystery and finally be able to put the past behind him?
I simply loved this story from the moment I started it. Coben starts his book with a prologue, introducing the reader to Matt Hunter by telling his story as if he was addressing Matt directly. This superb writing style draws the reader straight into the story, evoking feelings of sympathy, pity and devastation - and a general feeling of the unfairness of life. By the same token, Coben uses this style again in an epilogue to the story. The main part of the story is written in third person and takes place nine years after the events accounted for in the brilliantly written prologue.
Coben's characters, whether minor or major, all come across as people one might meet in real life. None of them is perfect, they all have a history - and Coben ensures that this history is brought out little by little, much like a person's history might be brought out once you get to know them better and better by chatting to them and spending more time with them. Most of the flaws he brings out in the main characters are of the type that would make you back off from such people in real life, perhaps even mistrust them to an irreversible extent, which in fact many of the other characters in the plot do. As a neutral third party, however, the flaws make the characters simply more endearing.
The characters make the read more than another crime thriller; they make it a thought-provoking piece of writing. As a reader, it made me question my own judgment of people, which sometimes might be too hasty. It made me ask myself whether the cliché, that "a leopard never changes its spots", is in fact true. It made me think about second chances and new starts in a way that I have never thought about before.
All this "deepness" of Coben's writing does not detract from the fact that the storyline is simply addictive. I could not stop reading this book - and it upset me whenever I had to put it down. There is a lot going on in the plot, and there are more twists in here than in a curly fry. It simply keeps you hooked. However, the unexpected twists do annoy from time to time, because on occasion I felt like there was a loophole, an error in the plot, an unexplained issue that just did not add up. Coming across these little hick-ups was much like waving away an annoying fly - a few pages after noticing them, I simply forgot about them. And in fact, some of the unexplained issues where simply reserved for explanation at another stage. My slight fear is, however, that these holes in the plot may lose a couple of readers along the way, as it is simply difficult to keep up.
I also felt that there were a few too many characters in the plot. Being someone who has issues remembering names, I sometimes got lost as to who was actually being discussed at the time. I did not lose the hang of the plot, but it slightly annoyed me to have to think back and search my memory for details I had previously read over as unimportant.
The Daily Telegraph commented that this is "a book to read in one gulp", and I would fully agree with this comment. I personally started reading this book on the way to work - and instantly regretted not to have kept the book until I had a day off to read it in one sitting. I strongly recommend taking this along on vacation - especially if you have a long-haul flight ahead of you. I am sure you'll arrive at your destination in no time with this excellent piece of distraction. No doubt, this is one of the most entertaining and gripping books I have read in a long time.
Price: £6.99 for a new paperback
Matt Hunter's life has already been blown apart once. A fight, a friend in trouble, and the dull crack of someone's skull on the concrete cost him four years in jail, and a small sliver of his soul. When Matt got out he set about rebuilding his life. He carved himself a job as a lawyer and fell in love with a beautiful woman. The break in the road seemed only to have made him a stronger person. But now someone is following him, and Matt realises that his new existence is under threat. Suddenly Matt can't trust anybody - least of all those he loves.