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Harlan Coben

RUNAWAY . . . Between the covers

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This gripping thriller opens in New York’s Central Park. To be more precise, in Strawberry Fields, the section of the public space dedicated – perhaps by a city with an uneasy sense of guilt about providing the stage for the most infamous music death of all – to the man who took five hollow-point .38 bullets in his back, just across the way on 8th December 1980. Simon Greene, a wealthy investment advisor, sits on a bench listening to a busker, also committing murder (but this time the victim is only a song, All You Need Is Love)

“Simon’s eyes stayed locked on the panhandling girl mangling John Lennon’s legacy. Her hair was matted clumps. Her cheekbones were sunken. The girl was rail-thin, raggedy, dirty, damaged, homeless, lost.

She was also Simon’s daughter Paige.”

RunawayStart a 366 page book like that, and you might be making a rod for your own back, one that will whack you squarely between the shoulder blades if you don’t keep up the poetic intensity. Does Coben manage it? Of course he does – and with the stylish flourishes and narrative élan we have come to expect from one of the great crime writers of out time.

Simon Greene tries to embrace his fallen daughter, both literally and metaphorically, and he meets not only rejection but is sucked into a vortex of desperation and violence as he defies the good advice of his family, and tries to bring Paige home. Greene has three weapons: first, a borrowed handgun he has no idea how to use; second, a relatively inexhaustible supply of cash with which to bribe the grifters who he believes can lead him to his daughter; thirdly – and perhaps the most potent – a desperate desire to reclaim his ‘little girl’ and, perhaps, assuage the inevitable feelings of guilt any parent must feel when a child goes badly astray.

Pitting a mild-mannered financial advisor against a violent underclass of drug dealers and abusers might seem an obvious ploy, but Coben turns the narrative on its head by introducing another element into Simon Greene’s quest. Think Heart of Darkness, and imagine Greene as Conrad’s Marlow, but be prepared for the elusive Kurtz to be someone – and something – way, way different and far more disturbing and dangerous.

HCHarlan Coben (right) has thirty or so best selling crime thrillers behind him, but we must never, ever, take him for granted. There is no formula, no template, and no literary flat-pack easy-to-assemble ‘give-the-audience-what-it-wants’ sameness. He takes us to uncomfortable places and introduces us to people who are not stereotype heroes or villains. He is unafraid to give us a rough ride along roads traveled by complicated people who frequently confound our perceptions. Runaway is, quite simply, a brilliant read. It is published by Century and will be out in Kindle and hardback on 21st March. The paperback version is expected in the summer. You can check out other Fully Booked reviews of Harlan Coben’s novels by clicking the links below.

Don’t Let Go

Home

ON MY SHELF . . . Late January 2019

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The TBR pile is beginning to look menacing, but that’s fine. It’s January. It’s bleak outside. The rain sluices against the window panes. The central heating is working a treat, so all is good. How do I find the time? It’s called being retired, and I can thoroughly recommend it. So, in alphabetical order of author, here we go.

RUN AWAY by Harlan Coben

harlan-cobenOne of the more reliable tropes in crime fiction, and one that never fails to hit a nerve, is the one about the father whose daughter is taken from him by fate, circumstance or – memorably in the case of Bryan Mills/Liam Neeson – by the bad guys. In this case, however, Simon Greene has lost his daughter to a more complex enemy – drugs, disenchantment and mental instability. Greene’s wife has had enough of the wayward Paige and has shut her out of her life, but Greene never stops looking. And then he finds her. Emaciated, filthy, and addicted. His determination to follow her down into her own private hell and bring her back is a terrifying journey through New York’ dark side, and a stark portrait of human obsession. Century will be publishing Run Away on 21st March, and there’s plenty to read about Harlan Coben on the Fully Booked website

TOO CLOSE by Natalie Daniels

claraNatalie Daniels is the pseudonym for screenwriter, author and actress Clara Salaman who starred as DS Claire Stanton in the long running British TV cop show The Bill. Her talent as a writer is on display here in a psychological drama about a woman who wakes up in a secure mental hospital, her hair torn out in clumps, emaciated and with no memory of how she got there. What is the connection between Connie’s present state and the friendly lady she met in the park watching their children play? Can psychiatrist Emma Robinson untangle the twisted knots that make up Connie’s memory, and come anywhere near to rationalising what Connie has done? Transworld Digital brought out Too Close in November 2018 as a Kindle, but people who like to get their hands on the printed page can get a paperback version on 7th March.

THE PASSENGERS by John Marrs

john-marrs-author-imageIf you are long in the tooth and a bit ‘old school’ like me, you may well share my bafflement at the concept of driverless cars. It will all end in tears, I say, and this entertaining mixture of crime fiction and SciFi may add weight to my argument. Eight driverless cars set off on their separate journeys. The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two who are travelling in separate vehicles – and a suicidal man. What could possibly go wrong? Someone hacking into the IT system which controls these vehicles is precisely what goes wrong, with predictably disastrous consequences. Marrs  is the author of best sellers The One, The Good Samaritan, When You Disappeared, Welcome to Wherever You Are and Her Last Move. The Passengers will be out in Kindle on 1st April, and there will be a paperback version from Del Rey at the end of May.

TAKEN by Tony Parsons

tony_parsonsThere are few modern writers who know London as well as Tony Parsons, and his intrepid London copper Max Wolfe gets to explore the many nooks and crannies, foibles, eccentricities – and dark places – of England’s capital in the course of his investigations. When a gangland revenge kidnapping goes spectacularly wrong, Wolfe is drawn into the nightmare world of London’s underbelly, and he is pitted against men for whom power, money, sex and horrific violence are simply tools of their trade. I am a huge fan of Tony Parsons and his Max Wolfe novels, so while you wait for Taken to appear –  on 18th April –  check out my reviews of Die Last and Girl On Fire.

 

NO ONE YOU KNOW by Michelle Richmond

michelleEllie Enderlin’s life has been blighted by the unsolved murder of her sister. Lila’s death cast its black shadow over her parents, too, but when Ellie finds her sisters notebook what she reads opens up the possibility that Lila’s killer may, at last, be identified. Knowledge, however, rarely comes without a price, and as Ellie reconstructs her sister’s life – and death – she comes to realise that when heavy stones are lifted, there may be unpleasant things scuttling around underneath. Set in San Francisco, this first came out in 2008, and second hand copies can be picked up fairly easily, but this is a brand new paperback reissue, and is out now,

 

KARIM, KING OF ENGLAND by Baz Wade

karimThis is a futuristic political thriller which takes as its subtext the anxieties many British people share about the rise and rise of Islam in the commercial, educational and social life of the country. Readers will not need subtitles to recognise the real-life palimpsest of this story, where a dazzling English princess bears a child whose father is a wealthy middle-eastern playboy. Karim is that child, and when he returns to England after a Muslim upbringing in Dubai, he becomes involved in a political and social struggle which threatens to engulf the country, and turn his golden dreams into ashes. Karim, King Of England came out late last year and is readily available.

 

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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best thriller

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What constitutes a thriller? I suppose that could be one of those ‘how long is a piece of string questions’. I would hope that any crime novel worth its salt would be ‘thrilling’ in some shape or form, but for the sake of clarity, I’m excluding books which rely heavily for their impact on police investigations, or are given added ambience by an historical setting. So, what did I enjoy? Harlan Coben always delivers, and his renegade policeman Napoleon ‘Nap’ Dumas left official procedural behind and certainly did the business in Don’t Let Go. Domestic Noir has become a very fruitful field for many authors and publishers, and I enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes by Simon Lelic in The House.

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Another writer who kept one or two brilliant tricks up his sleeve was Tim Weaver when he gave us another mystery for David Raker to solve in I Am Missing. Michael Robotham played the ‘unreliable narrator’ trick when he challenged us to decide just which of the expectant mums was telling the truth in The Secrets She Keeps, while Karen Perry dangled several versions of the truth in front of us in a brilliant tale about memory, old friendships and illusion in Can You Keep A Secret? 

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unleashed1So, who thrilled me the most? First across the line by a nose, in a very competitive field, was Unleashed, by Peter Laws. Laws sends his alter ego, Professor Matt Hunter, to the dull south London suburb of Menham to investigate a Hieronymus Bosch-like scene at a primary school concert, where the highlight of the evening is the music teacher being found dead in a cupboard full of recorders, plastic tambourines and chime bars – with her throat ripped out, apparently by her own pet dog. Hunter’s investigations lead him to to 29 Barley Street, where a young girl was found hanging from a beam in her bedroom. The soul of Holly Watson, however, is not at rest, and her presence still lingers in the claustrophobic gloom of her home. Occasionally – and unashamedly – playing to the gallery, and using every colour on his palette, Laws paints a picture that disquiets us. He makes us think to ourselves, “This is nonsense, but …..” The ‘but’ is his key weapon. He evokes old fears, conjure up ancient and deep-rooted uncertainties – and makes us glad that Unleashed is only a book.

My verdict?

“Laws takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.”

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DON’T LET GO … Between the covers

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Napoleon. Dumas. Two names resonant of nineteenth century France. A warrior and a writer. Put them together, and you have an unusual combination. Unusual, certainly, for a New Jersey cop. He has been known as ‘Nap’ for as long as he can remember, and he takes centre stage in the latest thriller from Harlan Coben. Dumas was born in Marseilles but since his family moved to Westbridge, NJ, he hasn’t strayed far from his home town. Nap Dumas is not, however, all he seems to be. On the one hand:

DLG cover“Mr Nice Neighbour. See, I am that rarest of creatures in suburban towns – a straight, single, childless male is about as common out here as a cigarette in a health club – so I work hard to come across as normal, boring, reliable.”

That’s the Nap Dumas who waves to his neighbours Ned and Tammy and never forgets to inquire how their son’s team is doing in the little league. There is another Nap Dumas, too. He’s the man who tracks down Trey, a lowlife bully who has been beating up his girlfriend and abusing her daughter. He’s the man who explains the problem to Trey. With a baseball bat.

There’s a third Nap Dumas, who never lets a day go by without talking to his twin brother Leo. That’s the Leo who, fifteen years ago was found by the railway tracks with his girlfriend Diane. Both of them turned into little more than roadkill by the impact of 3000 tons of freight train. The sequence of events of that terrible night play on loop inside Nap’s head, along with a nightmare tangle of unanswered questions. Why did the pair commit suicide? Why did Nap’s girlfriend Maura Wells disappear that night and simply drop off the radar?

When ex-Westbridge boy Rex Canton – now a traffic cop in neighbouring Pennsylvania – takes two bullets in the back of the head while conducting a routine traffic stop, the investigators come looking for Nap Dumas. At first he is puzzled. He hasn’t seen Rex Canton in years, and they were never particularly close. But when they tell him whose fingerprints they found in the car realisation dawns:

“I have always heard the expression,’the hairs on my neck stood up,’ but I don’t think I ever quite got it until now.”

One of the investigating officers spells it out, just in case the penny hasn’t dropped:

“The prints got a hit …. because ten years ago, you, Detective Dumas, put them in the database, describing her as a person of interest. Ten years ago, when you first joined the force, you asked to be notified if there was ever a hit.”

The discovery of Maura’s prints triggers a journey into a nightmare that some people in Westbridge had tried to forget. A nightmare made up of lies, lives shattered, deception and cold blooded murder. Nap Dumas, however, is determined to prise up the stone from the ground, even though he knows that dark and deadly things will be scuttling about underneath.

Harlan Coben 2014 bis (c) Claudio Marinesco (3).jpgCoben is never anything but readable and he is great form here. This was one of those books which pose a delicious dilemma – do I carry on reading as the hook of the action bites deeper and deeper, or do I put it down for a couple of hours to make it last longer? As a regular reader of Coben’s books I knew that the big reveal – in this case the truth about the deaths of Leo and Diane – would be a definite “Oh, my God!” moment, but try as I might, I didn’t get close to guessing the actual shocking detail.

Coben doesn’t usually spend too much energy on giving us anything remotely romantic but, as a bonus, he allows himself to tug a few heartstrings at the end of this gripping – and affecting – thriller. Fans of Coben’s sporting investigator Myron Bolitar (read our review of Home here) will also be pleased to know that he puts in an appearance – albeit a brief one – in Don’t Let Go, which is published by Century and will be available in all formats from September 26th.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Coben, Perry and Otis

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September traditionally sees publishing houses very busy with new books, launches and showcases of debut talent – and this activity always is guaranteed to keep my long-suffering postman extremely busy!

Coben005Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
Nap Dumas is a cop, but his dedication to the badge only goes skin deep. He tends to play the game his own way, and if this involves delivering rough justice to scumbags on the street, then so be it. Dumas has a history, though. His childhood was scarred by a double death – that of his brother Leo who died with his girlfriend Diana in what the cops dismissed as a teenage suicide pact. Nap thought that was a crock then. Now, fifteen years later, he still thinks it was a crock. As Nap learns to his cost in this latest mesmerising novel from the master of twists and double twists, some past traumas never fully heal, but lie embedded like dormant tumours just waiting to metastasize the  present.
We reviewed an earlier novel by Coben this time last year, and you can check it out by clicking this link. Don’t Let Go is published by Century and will be out in hardback on 26th September.

SEcret004Can You Keep A Secret? by Karen Perry
They often say that two heads are better than one, and this was never more true than in the case of Dubliners Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. They are both widely respected and successful writers in their own right, but their collaboration under the pen name of Karen Perry has been a triumph where the qualities of each have been enhanced rather than diluted. In this, their latest psychological thriller they use the ever-potent theme of the reunion which goes badly wrong. Patrick Bagenall held his eighteenth birthday party in the family home, Thornbury Hall. Now, years later, with the mansion too decayed to be worth restoring, he holds a reunion gathering which should be a tearfully poignant farewell to the past, but a stepping stone to a positive future. Instead, dark secrets slither into the light and buried misdeeds scrabble their way to the surface. Can You Keep A Secret is published by Penguin, and will be available in paperback and Kindle at the end of November.

Book1003Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis
London, 1977.
“He buried his tormentor under the glare of the moon and went to sleep that night, with the dirt from the makeshift grave still caked underneath his fingernails.”
Dead Lands begins with a murder and continues with a violent journey through an urban landscape which wears its hippy-happy-peaceful mantle as a poor disguise, which fools no-one.
Lloyd Otis  was born in London and graduated in Media and Communication. Having written reviews for music sites,  and after gaining several years of valuable experience within the finance and digital sectors, he completed a course in journalism. He now works as an editor. Lloyd  has blogged for The Bookseller, and The Huffington Post and also wrote a regular book review column for WUWO Magazine. Two of his short stories were selected for publication in the Out of My Window anthology. He has also had articles appear on the Crime Readers’ Association website, and in the magazine Writers’ Forum. Dead Lands, his debut full length novel, is published by Urbane Publications, and will be available on 12th October.

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COMPETITION … Win ‘Home’ by Harlan Coben

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HERE AT FULLY BOOKED TOWERS  we have a lovely crisp new paperback edition of Home, the mesmerising thriller by suspense-meister Harlan Coben, and it is crying out for a new owner. We reviewed the hardback edition a while ago, and were knocked out by the incredibly clever plot which twists and turns this way and that.

SO, HOW DO YOU ENTER? Dead simple. Fans of Coben’s investigator Myron Bolitar will already know the answer, but if you are new to the series, read our review, which is on the end of this link. You will see that Bolitar is a former professional sportsman. Simply use that sport as the email subject, eg “Cricket” and email Fully Booked at the address below.

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

ALL CORRECT ANSWERS will be put into the digital hat, and the winner will be notified in due course. To keep postage costs down, the competition on this occasion is only open to readers from the UK and the Irish Republic. We have a Bank Holiday next weekend, and so the competition closes at 10.00pm UK time on Monday 1st May.

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HOME … Between the covers

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Coming new to an established series happens more often than you might think to book reviewers, and so it is with this book. It has taken me ten previous novels to catch up with Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar. You may have been there from the beginning, which was in 1995 with Deal Breaker, and if so, bear with me for a moment. Myron Bolitar is a forty-something former top basketball player, whose career was cut cruelly short when his knee was ruined in an on-court incident. He used his sporting fame to start up an agency representing sports stars, but later expanded his client base to include other celebrities.

Home starts with a metaphorical ‘bang’ in the form of a very literal ‘slash’. The as yet un-named narrator is in the insalubrious London district of King’s Cross and we know only that he is searching for two missing boys, abducted from their American home ten years since. They were six at the time, but our narrator has been given an anonymous tip that one of them is now working as a rent boy in London. The boy seems appears to be plying his trade in a city underpass, along with a variety of other bodies for sale. When the teenager is attacked by three street hoodlums, the narrator intervenes. With a cut-throat razor. The teenager, however, escapes into the hurly burly of King’s Cross railway station, complete with its Harry Potter and Hogwarts connection.

Three dead bodies, and a ‘phone call later, we learn that we have been listening to the voice of Windsor Horne Lockwood III, a billionaire playboy, with a psychotic streak. ‘Win’ is the long term best friend of Myron Bolitar, and related to one of the missing boys. We soon meet Myron himself, as he is recovering from a bout of energetic sex with his fiancée, Terese, in Win’s New York apartment, which is in none other than the celebrated Dakota building.

Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin were on a ‘playdate’ at Patrick’s home, in the care of the Moore’s Finnish au pair, when masked men burst into the house, overpowered and tied up the young woman, and made off with the two boys. That is the history. The present? Myron is summoned to London to add his investigative skills to Win’s savagery. After some spectacular rough and tumble involving a larger-than-life human monster called Fat Gandhi, Patrick Moore is rescued and brought back to New Jersey.

That, however is very far from that. Patrick is restored to something resembling the home he was snatched from a decade earlier, but what of Rhys? Win and Myron begin to smell a rather malodorous rat, and there are more questions than answers. What does Patrick remember of the fateful day? Is he actually Patrick, or is there some scarcely imaginable scam being carried out?

Myron finally learns the the truth about the the two boys, but you may well share the former basketball ace’s bafflement along the way. Eventually, Coben lets him into the secret with a dazzling and totally unexpected revelation, rather than having him painstakingly gather evidence. I didn’t see the solution coming, but when it did, it was like being hit by a train.

This is a brilliant tale, and will be all the more dazzling to anyone like myself who is new to the series. Having yin and yang partnerships is nothing new in crime fiction, but it can seldom have been more audaciously used as with Coben’s sweet and sour pair. Win provides an unlimited supply of violence to complement Myron’s empathy and compassion. The closest comparison I can think of is that of the wise-guy persona of Robert B Parker’s Spenser, and his lethal friendship with the implacable Hawk. Home is one of those books that may well grab you by the throat and keep you mesmerised until you have reached the last page. Dogs will go unwalked. Pans will boil over on the stove. ‘Phones will go unanswered. You have been warned.

Follow the link to see buying options for Home.

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Coben & Byron

Postman 2HOME by Harlan Coben
The New Jersey based author is one of the bigger beasts in the crime fiction jungle, and he has created one of the more distinctive ‘accidental detectives’ in the genre. Myron Bolitar, the 6 feet 4 inches tall former basketball player, has already won three major awards for his creator, an Edgar (for Fade Away), a Shamus (Drop Shot) and an Anthony (Deal Breaker). In this latest adventure for the sports agent, he tackles the case of a disappeared boy who has, almost inevitably, been assumed dead. But now he shows up after a decade. Is he the real deal, or is he part of a sinister and devious scam? Home will be out in a variety of formats on 22nd September, and you can check the details here.

BODY ON THE BAYOU by Ellen Byron
Away from the city lights we go and we pay a visit to the town of Pelican, Louisiana, and as the title suggests we can expect plenty of alligators, snakes, spoonbills and other assorted fauna who make their homes in the mysterious watery glades. But this isn’t a wildlife Ellen Bdocumentary – it’s a case of murder. Byron (right) reintroduces the characters she created in Plantation Shudders (2015) and this time the Crozat family have another murder on their hands when a woman’s body is found floating on the still waters of their plantation. The publicity tells us that the Crozats have “a gumbo potful of suspects on their hands.” Just to be clear, this isn’t Southern Noir, but more an example of Southern Cosy, and it’s out on 13th September. Find out more here.
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