LIVE WIRE by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben is the Spencer Tracy of Fiction. Katharine Hepburn said Tracy was like a baked potato, simple and honest. I don’t know any better way to describe Coben’s writing. And here’s the payoff: his characters are so grounded and their connections to each other are so real, as they continue to interact the tension escalates faster than wind whips across the plains. Coben’s interplay with the elements of fiction is so simple it feels complex.

His clarity in storytelling was amplified for me in Live Wire because it was my first encounter with the sports agent sleuth, Myron Bolitar, whose series began in 1995. I anticipated spending the first third of the book playing catch-up. I was wrong. Live Wire was the perfect story to become acclimated to Myron thanks to Coben’s ability to drop in background information without interrupting the flow of action.

If you’re a writer and can inhibit yourself from falling under Coben’s page-turning spell long enough to study his scene work, you’ll discover each chapter has a simple formula: establish the characters, their relationship, the conflict and get out. In addition, all dialogue reveals new information, raises questions and adds complications—all the essentials needed to advance the plot.

Coben’s writing is simple, but far from barebones. His characters are drawn with such specificity they jump off the page.

His skin was too oily, too shiny, so that he looked a bit like something Madame Tussaud created on an off day. The neck gave him away. It was scrawny and baggy, hanging loosely like an old man’s scrotum.

What I admire most about the storytelling of Harlan Coben is his ability to make us forget what we know. The entire gist of Live Wire is on the jacket flap. But Coben coaxes us so far into Myron Bolitar’s world, as the story unfolds, we only know what Myron knows. So, when events happen we’re as surprised as he is. How is this possible? I believe it stems from how Coben uses what if—the two-word root of every memorable story.

The harm that has fallen upon Myron’s friends and family stirs up past regrets and leads everyone to wonder what if they had acted differently. And as the characters run from poor choices, or attempt to undo the damage they’ve caused, the reader also begins to play the what if game. Our investment keeps us turning pages, but Coben’s characters are always twisting or unknotting the facts a fraction of a second faster than we can make sense of them. And that’s why his novels pack a wallop.

Live Wire made me fall for Myron Bolitar and his entourage. So you can imagine how disappointed I was to hear that the Bolitar series may have come to an end. Fortunately for me, I still have an entire series to catch up on. Or, I can get my fill of Myron by reading Coben’s New YA series starring Myron’s nephew Mickey. That’s Harlan Coben, simple, honest and a dependable baked potato.

Dig in to Live Wire.