I don’t often laugh out loud (for those of you under 20, that’s an antique term for “lol”) at anything I read online, but Lileks cracked me up today with his deconstruction of a set of postcards from China in the days of the Cultural Revolution, describing an opera called “The Red Detachment of Women.”
I’m always looking for new favorite thriller writers. Klavan, Connelly, Tanenbaum, Kellerman and Lehane can only put out so much product per annum. So when I saw Harlan Coben’s new novel, Promise Me, in a grocery store rack, I figured I’d give him a try.
It was close, but he didn’t make the cut.
Not that the book’s bad. I enjoyed it and read it with interest. But… well, let me lay out the particulars.
The main character is Myron Bolitar (full points for audacity in choosing a character name), a sports and entertainment agent who divides his time between New York City and his suburban home town. Bolitar, it appears, was the hero of a series of earlier Coben novels, though he hasn’t appeared in a new book in about seven years. During those years, we are told, Bolitar has been concentrating on his business. Never married, he has recently begun dating a local widow.
One evening, during a party, he overhears his girlfriend’s daughter talking to a friend (Aimee, a girl he has known all her life, the daughter of friends of his own). They mention parties and drinking. Bolitar decides to talk to them. He gives each of them his card, asking them to promise him that if they ever find themselves in a situation where they’re faced with driving drunk, or riding with a drunk driver, they will call him. He promises to drive anywhere and pick them up, no questions asked.
It’s an admirable act, but the results aren’t what he planned on. He gets a call one night from Aimee. She’s in Manhattan and needs a ride. When he shows up, she’s not drunk at all, only troubled. She directs him to a residential address in the suburbs, then goes to a dark house that she says is a friend’s. Her friend will let her in, she says.
After that she disappears.
Myron is the last person to see her, and his story sounds thin. Also another girl from the same town has disappeared in similar fashion. Her father is desperate to find her, and not particular how he gets the information. He’s also a gangster.
Fortunately Myron has his own resources. He has a good record with the police. He also has a friend named Win Lockwood.
Many of today’s mystery heroes have psycho killer friends—scary, dangerous guys devoted to the hero for some reason, who are useful in the situations of extreme violence such stories tend to involve. We don’t like our heroes to be killing machines, I suppose, so we need the psycho killer friend to keep the hero alive.
I found Win Lockwood a kind of unconvincing PKF. He’s supposed to be the scion of very old money. As a boy, after a serious incident of bullying, he devoted his life to learning all the killing arts. Now, apparently, he just enjoys his wealth and watches Bolitar’s back for fun.
I think I was supposed to like him. Maybe I would have if I’d read the earlier novels. But in this book I found him sort of a flat, amoral deus ex machina.
I liked the book a lot in some ways. The theme overall is how much parents love their children, and the lengths to which they’ll go to protect them.
I wasn’t sure, though, whether Coben was willing to make moral distinctions. He seemed to conclude (I may have misunderstood him) that there is no real difference in kind between any child-protective acts, even including murder.
And the ending was troubling for any Christian conservative.
So I don’t think I’ll go back to Coben. Too bad. There was much to commend the book.