Harlan Coben entered my life in 2009. We’d seen each other across bookstores, but we kept our distance. My reluctance to introduce myself stemmed from fear—the fear of lust. A bald man gifted in the hook and twist game means danger for anyone with a large TBR pile.
My last ounce of resistance melted away when his name crossed the lips of editor Lisa Rector at the Surrey International Writers Conference. I was in Rector’s Eleventh Hour Checklist workshop. She talked a lot about avoiding safety as a writer.
“Don’t play the predictable card,” she said. “When you read Harlan Coben you always know what you’re going to get, but you never know how it will unfold. Take risks. Do the unexpected for the character and for you.”
Nothing sells an author faster than word of mouth. As soon as the conference was over I picked up two of his books. Rector was right. Coben delivered the goods and I purchased several more books—all of them stand-alone thrillers because, once again, I was afraid of falling in lust with the Myron Bolitar series.
Three years have passed since I dallied with Harlan Coben. I was going to place Six Years on my wish list because I would so like to get through my TBR pile, but the premise of this stand-alone snared my curiosity. I pre-ordered and waited. Then my excitement disintegrated into confusion. Other than The Woods I couldn’t remember any of the titles of the previous books I read. For the past ten years my husband has been telling me, “We’re getting old.” I’ve always shrugged him off, but I started to wonder. Was my memory crumbling? I hustled over to the bookshelf and read the titles and the book flaps, but the only story that rushed back in its entirety was Play Dead.
What was this about? There are books on my shelves I haven’t read in thirty years and I still recall the twists and turns. So why, other than Play Dead were Coben’s novels forgettable for me?
When Six Years arrived my baffling revelation caused me to proceed with caution. Engaging a childish dare, I refused to read more than one chapter the first few nights. Maybe this Coben guy will reel me in and maybe he won’t. As my nightly reading expanded beyond the one chapter limit, I remembered why I previously devoured five Coben books in rapid succession. The main character Jake Fisher resonates as everyman. This everyman quality is one of the reasons Coben’s novels are so popular. His characters are people we recognize and secretly hope we will emulate if we are ever placed in a similar situation.
I loved Jake’s humor and point of view. But I still found it difficult to slip under his skin. About a third of the way through I understood why. I crave character driven novels and Six Years is all about plot. But Coben knows how to squeeze a plot, it’s another reason his books are bestsellers. Complications mount in each chapter to keep the tension and stakes high, and make it impossible for a reader to walk away.
Then around page two hundred I gained a new appreciation for Lisa Rector’s comment. “…you never know how it will unfold. Take risks. Do the unexpected for the character and you.”
After another near-death experience Jake seeks refuge in a “no-tell motel” and has a light-hearted exchange with the desk manager. The scene was so impromptu I laughed out loud. The dialogue was less than a page in length, but the connection between the characters was so genuine the last remnants of caution on my part disappeared. Jake’s struggle became my own. I read the remainder of the novel in one sitting.
I’m still not certain why I don’t remember the details of four of Coben’s earlier books. Maybe they didn’t have a love interest—romance is a huge hook for me and romance is a factor in Play Dead and Six Years. Or it’s possible that for whatever reason I read those books with less awareness. I may never unravel this mystery.
What I am certain of is Coben’s deft use of characters to reveal information, create complications and provide red herrings. They are three-dimensional, lean and although his books are plot driven, Coben’s everyman characters are the reason we turn the page.
Explore the unexpected twists of Six Years.