Coben’s Caught Enters the Running

Harlan Coben’s a best-selling author, and deservedly so.  I started reading his Myron Bolitar series (a frequently-funny series featuring a short-time pro basketball player turned sports agent) with Deal Breaker in the mid-90s.  Myron’s best friend is Windsor Horne Lockwood III… a very handy guy to know when you need an incredibly rich, incredibly connected, and basically all-around incredible guy.  Win shows up in Caught in a minor role – a cameo, if you will.

Coben’s also a prolific producer of standalone thrillers, and Caught is a good example of the bunch.  It’s told from multiple perspectives, but the whole plot hinges on a “caught on camera” reality TV show that purports to reveal pedophiles.  You’ve seen the shows… the guys are amazingly stupid, showing up with a pocket full of condoms and a six-pack under one arm for a rendezvous with a 13-year-old girl in her parents’ hot tub, only to be greeted by a reporter in a flashy suit with a camera crew.  The guy never runs for the hills, they always stick around to explain themselves before being handcuffed and shoved into the back of a police car.

Only in this case, the predator who is caught, Dan Mercer, seems like a true-blue guy.  There are some questions about his past  – it’s a little murky – but no warning signs, ever, even though the case seems all locked up.  Even cynical reporter Wendy Tynes is beginning to have her doubts when he is suddenly murdered – right in front of her eyes – by a masked man she’s sure is the father of one of  Mercer’s victims.

But Wendy’s a better investigative journalist than her schlock-TV producers know, and as she pulls on the threads that make up the evidence against Mercer, she finds they unravel… and in the unravelling, she uncovers an alarming pattern: Mercer is just one of a group of college room-mates whose professional lives have been ruined, often by no more than internet-chat-room rumors and innuendo.

It all goes back to a college prank gone awry, with tragic consequences. (If you’re paying attention, that makes three of the six Edgar-nominated novels that include a long-ago crime as a key plot point.)

Excellent things about this novel:   Twisty plot and I didn’t figure it out in advance (which I frequently do!).  Believable single mom main character with great mother-son interaction.

Not so great:  Backstory with tragically hidden-from-life character seemed a little gothic to me.  Especially with a first-person prologue, I never felt that Mercer was dead and kept expecting him to pop back up… which, of course, he did.

Still, Coben’s a skilled writer and Caught stacks up well.

Here’s the Lunchbox Ranking:

  1. I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman
  2. Caught – Harlen Coben
  3. The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton
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