It is hard to pin down a description of Harlan Coben's writing. In some ways he is Runyonesque, while at other times he has a dash of Michael Connelly mixed with Stephen King. But in all of his writing he brings a unique voice to stories that entertain and enthrall the reader. This is certainly true of his latest novel Stay Close.
Stay Close takes place in the completely distinctive metropolis of Atlantic City, New Jersey. It is here that a series of murders have taken place in a section of that area called the Pine Barrens. Seventeen years ago a man named Stewart Green was last seen in this vicinity, and the last persons to see him were two lovers -- a photographer named Ray and an adult dancer named Cassie. It was also the last time Ray and Cassie saw each other.
Ray had a breakdown of sorts and turned to drink for solace. Cassie fled Atlantic City and created a new life for herself. She took the name of Megan and became a suburban housewife with a husband and two kids. But now Megan has been summoned back to Atlantic City, a move that could cause the end of her charade. It could also put her in more danger than she has ever known. There is a killer looking to continue the killing spree and anyone bringing attention to the Pine Barrens will have to be eliminated.
Coben takes this basic framework of a story and embellishes it with a study of tight police work, several love stories, and a huge dollop of sadistic activities. He peoples the story with characters who get under your skin and into your heart. These are not your typical heroes and heroines but they play these roles just the same.
When you read a Coben novel you are absorbed by it. His writing draws you into the world he has created and you get to know the characters totally. He does not give you all the details of his story but rather implies certain things and then leaves them to your imagination. This is only on some minor issues, not the major ones.
There is a rhythm to his writing and it only takes a few pages to adapt to it. You know he is going to use the "what happened then" ending to some of his chapters. You know there is going to be a variety of characters created and that they are all going to be connected by the end of the story, and you know he is going to give you a variety of aspects of the plot -- some elements are going to be comical, some dramatic and some romantic.
When it comes to romance Coben writes tenderly at times and brutally at others. In Stay Close he imbues most of his characters with an unfailing optimism. There is always hope of that happily ever after that involves a family living in a house with a picket fence. Some achieve this dream while others lose their way.
There is a lot of enjoyment in reading Stay Close. The story is intense, the characters are interesting, and the writing is magnificent. Coben's talent is in high gear as he takes his readers to the magical world of Atlantic City, a place where dreams either come true or die.
Stay Close is published by Dutton. It contains 384 pages and sells for $27.95.
Jackie K Cooper