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BOOK REVIEW: "Don't Let Go" by Harlan Coben

"Don't Let Go" by novelist Harlan Coben.
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BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben (Dutton) 2017

Since approximately 2002, suburban New Jersey detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas has been haunted by the unsettling death of his twin brother Leo, and Leo’s girlfriend Diana, after they were hit by a train near their hometown of Wellbridge.

And now, in 2017, the ghosts of that night are coming back to remind Nap that certain things were left unresolved, including the disturbing deaths of Nap’s high school friends who all happened to belong to a secretive group of X-Files-esque sleuths called the Conspiracy Club.

One of the people associated with the Conspiracy Club, and one who went missing years ago and is now linked to the murder of a police officer is Maura, Nap’s old high school flame.

That leads some Pennsylvania cops investigating the murder to track down fellow cop Nap, who is questioned about him putting some DNA evidence linked to Maura on file. It strikes them as suspicious.

From that point, Nap senses he is on to something.

This is early in the book, maybe 40 pages in. Maura has only witnessed the murder of the cop, and she was left alone by the guy she was hitting on in a scam involving her and Rex, the cop and former Conspiracy Club member.

Coben is an author I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but a recent review of Don’t Let Go in The New York Times got my attention. There was mention of a small-town mystery, alleged secret activities and experiments a’la Montauk, going on at a nearby, closed-down Nike missile base deep in the woods, and, of course, missing and dead friends. The links seemed like more than coincidence to Nap, especially considering his brother’s link to it all.

Coben’s writing style is certainly easy and breezy enough. I think he is trying to paint Nap (yes, he’s of French ancestry) as more hardboiled than he really is. Nap is only in his mid-30's and shouldn't be so jaded. But it is true he has had a rough adult life, investigating numerous homicides and other things on the dark side of life. 

The investigating cops don't take him home and he has to find lodging for the night. The following is Nap, who is narrating the tale - and primarily directed at his dead brother.

"Two blocks down the road I find a 'no-tell motel' that promises all the glamour and amenities of a herpes sore, which isn this case is a logical metaphor on several levels. The sign advertising hourly rates, 'color TV' (do some motels still offer black-and-white?) , and 'theme rooms.' 

"I'll take the gonorrhea suite," I say.

"The guy behind the desk tosses me a key so fast I fear that I may be getting the suite I requested."

The dialogue and thought "balloons" are a lot like that, although not as amusing or sarcastic. We do get a pretty good story about secret government operations, a Stephen-King-crossed-with-Ray-Bradbury-styled yarn involving adults reminiscing about bizarre experiences in their younger years and some villains who seem more two-dimensional than they should be. 

One character, a super-genius named "Hank," is troubled and mentally ill, but turns out to be a key player who is in possession of a videotape that could blow the post-9/11 conspiracy wide open.

I think Mr. Coben thought long and hard about this story. It has a "pop novel" feel and his feel for Jersey life and culture is practically Springsteenian. But I felt the characters were a little flat and the arc of the novel sputtered here and there and didn't quite deliver in the way I had hoped or expected.

Again, I don't read detective/mystery-type novels very often and this sort of story of love, conspiracy, murder and redemption may be up your alley. This is a decent novel that could have been great.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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