Long Lost, by Harlan Coben
Source: My mother cleaned out her bookshelves and gave me a hard-cover edition
Kindle price: $9.99
Publisher: Signet; 1 edition (March 31, 2009)
POV: First person, locked
This is my third Harlan Coben book, and likely my last. My wife calls his books “candy.” And no, that’s not chocolate, which has depth and character. This is pure high-fructose corn syrup.
Lack of depth characterizes candy. It’s all on the tongue, very little in the throat, nothing in the stomach. Yeah. That’s Coben.
Example for learning purposes: The main character, Myron Bolitar, is gut-shot and tortured (including waterboarding — no popular writer seems to be able to resist waterboarding these days) for sixteen days in one of those infamous “dark sites” that our government wants us to believe either doesn’t exist or exists for our own good (candy laced with poison?).
When Myron returns, he goes straight back to his office to work. Not without symptoms, of course. Coben’s not saccharine. Here’s how Myron feels while he’s working (page 231 of the hardback): “I felt jittery and anxious for reasons I can’t explain. I even bit my nails, something I hadn’t done since I was in the fourth grade, and searched my body for scabs I could pick.” Like maybe the scabs from the bullet entry and exit wounds? And nail-biting, oh dear, that must be one of the worst post-traumatic stress syndrome symptoms on the market. My point is, this is cardboard, shallow, weak. Not believable.
And then there’s Myron’s sidekick, Win. Scion of an ultra-rich family. Expert in all the firepower and deadly arts money can buy. Win is like Myron’s super power, called upon only when Myron has to get out of a scrape no mere mortal can escape. Except even Win isn’t powerful enough to save Myron from the waterboarding and his rather ordinary rendition. What a weak super power.
As for story structure, the first three chapters are like a short story that have almost nothing to do with the rest of the book. I usually read Kindle Samples of a book before I “buy,” which is more about choosing to read than an expenditure of money. For this book, the Sample would have led me wholly astray.
Okay, I’ll stop complaining. It’s hard, actually, to extract nutritional learning from high-fructose storytelling. Worse, it’s rather depressing, because readers seem to love candy (in a nation of diabetics and obese people, that’s a huge surprise). Harlan Coben is right up there with James Rollins and James Patterson for supplying the hungry masses with junk food for their reading eyes.
Lessons for writers:
- To hone your shallow writing skills, focus on action over character development at every opportunity.
- Magic (in the form, in this case, of a friend who is rich and demented enough to do almost anything) can get your main character out of almost any plot hole, which can save the writer tons of work.
- If this is the kind of writing you do, please, please charge $0.99 for your Kindle books, because frankly, even that’s over-charging the buyer.