Two authors have dominated the “thriller” genre so significantly for me that I must buy their latest books. I’d even buy them if they suddenly dropped everything and became pulp romance authors! (Okay, maybe that’s a stretch.) But Lee Child and Harlan Coben are so engaging in their suspense and characterization that reading their books feels necessary: we may know how the books will wrap up their mystery du jour, but the way their characters move and grow appears even more important. Such is the case in Coben’s latest, Missing You.
To be straightforward: the first twenty to thirty pages of the novel had me asking, “Is this the end of Coben’s run?” The opening wasn’t the most gripping, and the subsequent chapters felt too disparate, too all over the place. But then Coben settles in, to tell the stories of Kat Donovan, NYPD detective, and those fragmented characters who unwind and shatter out from Donovan through this thriller about cat fishing, the lives we’ve lived and lost, and the power of truth to rise above everything else.
Coben’s main character is usually witty. No, that’s not strong enough. The lead is usually a wiseass, and Donovan is no different. She has a partner, Chaz, a womanizing drag on her job; she has a friend, Stacy, who is more beautiful and pushes her to date; she has a dead father, Henry, whose supposed murderer sits at death’s door; and she has an ex-fiance, Jeff, who she still pines after… and suddenly reconnects with at Stacy’s insistence. But none of this compares to the case of a missing mother that plops down at her desk one day in the person of the woman’s college-age son.
The book lets us into the mind and actions of Donovan, those of the villains, and, occasionally, other characters. But he never completely sells out to making it obvious. He’s always holding something back. Just a little. Still, when you have the mob, a twenty-year-old love affair, the stories of parents, a series of missing persons reports, and police procedure and subterfuge mixed up in the plot, it’s not all going to be straightforward!
Somewhere along the line, Coben stepped up his plots to include the exploration of family, of past, and of future. It’s entertaining, like a Robert Parker Spenser novel, but it’s also provocative as it asks questions like, how do we let go of the past? When should we let go of the past? How do the decisions of our parents impact the way that our pasts and our futures play out? What do our lives today reflect in terms of what we accept as true (versus what is really true) and what we’ll do to defend or explore that truth? How do our relationships survive a certain amount of untruth, and when do we get tired of the lies?
Coben wrestles with the relationships of his characters, as they struggle with their fantasies and expectations. He shows the brokenness of past relationships and the ways they impact the love and comfort we look for; he exposes the things we look for and the way that those things betray what we actually need. Internet dating plays a major role in the way that the story plays out, and it’s this artificial interaction that leads to much of the drama here. I can’t speak to it too closely, but I know it’s worked for some of my friends, and still see it ending up as the main component of the evening news with regularity.
I’m hooked again by Coben’s blend of real life, humor, and thrilling adventure. Now, I just have to wait another year for him to deliver another adventure.