Tag Archives: Edgar nominees

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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Edgar Title Bout: Steve Hamilton vs. Laura Lippman

Steve Hamilton’s no newcomer.  He’s the author of the Alex McKnight series of mysteries sent in Michigan’s upper peninsula, and his debut novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the Edgar for the Best First Novel by an American Author.  I discovered it in a used book store and eagerly snapped up subsequent books.   And it’s great to see his new book – possibly a standalone, but perhaps the first in a new series? – nominated for Best Novel.

Like Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist features a protagonist scarred by previous events.   It also criss-crosses through time.  The novel opens with a framing device – 28-year-old Michael Smith is in prison, reflecting on his life.  He says:

So hang on, because this is my story if you’re ready for it.  I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time.  Later on, the Milford Mute.  The Golden Boy.  The Young Ghost.  The Kid.  The Boxman.  The Lock Artist.  That was all me.  But you can call me Mike.

The book’s in first person, and an engaging person it is.  Michael Smith was shaped by tragedy – at the age of 8, he was the only survivor of a brutal crime. And he hasn’t spoken since.  Raised by his Uncle Lito (of Lito’s Liquors), Mike shows an uncanny early aptitude for opening locked doors.   Through an improbable series of events, Mike ends up taking the rap for teenage vandalism all on his own, forced to “make restitution” to the victim, a guy who tries to pay off his debt to the mob by introducing them to Mike, leading to Mike’s apprenticeship to The Ghost (a long-time “boxman,” safecracker, due for retirement), a box full of pagers that go off when his skills are needed, and involvement with a group of grifters.  All by the age of 18.  And, oh yeah, he’s in love.

Excellent things about this novel:   The first-person voice is engaging, truly.  Mike Smith is totally believable, and you care about him.  The plot is fast-moving.  The Ghost is interesting.  Plus, I am convinced that Steve Hamilton can personally open any lock you put in front of him.  That’s how much he knows about locks. He makes me feel guilty about how much I fudge my research.

Weaknesses:  The plot is, as noted above, improbable.  Hamilton keeps you buying it as you go along, but it doesn’t hold up as well on reflection.  And the whole cadre of con artists were not well-developed, believable characters.

Overall:  This’ll be a great movie.

Ranking:  No contest.  The Lock Artist is a fun read, but it ranks below I’d Know You Anywhere on the Lunchbox Edgar Rating Meter.

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

Reading the Edgar Nominees on Kindle. In Hawaii.

Faithful reader, I am in Hawaii right now.  Do not hate me, despite the daily 80-degree, sunshine-filled days at the Royal Hawaiian (a pricey but worth-it splurge).  I “paid” for this time  with a little work for the ADA and the new dentists in Hawaii.  (Six hours with enthusiastic young people.  It’s awful.)  With the exorbitant fees for checking baggage, I decided the way to get in my goal of reading all the Edgar nominees for Best Novel by making heavy use of my Kindle.

Now, even though I’m not a technophobe, I am a fairly late adopter.  I also learn better if I’m shown something – reading the manual doesn’t really do it for me.  As a result, while the Kindle has all kinds of bells and whistles, I don’t use them. After reading five of the six nominees for the MWA 2011 Edgar award for Best Novel, I can tell you… this is a mistake.   So for the sixth – Laura Lippman’s excellent I’d Know You Anywhere I got my husband to show me a couple of things.  Much better!

In my previous review of the book, I gave it a big thumbs up.  On rereading, there is no reason to change my mind.  I’d Know You Anywhere is well-written.  The characters are fully three-dimensional, and although far from idealized, are dearer, and more heart-wrenching, because of it.  Lippman is particularly skilled with point of view – I was struck by her retelling the scene where 15-year-old Elizabeth Lerner meets her captor, Walter Bowman.  Elizabeth is seeking a shortcut to a fast-food hangout, but the stream she planned to cross is higher than she expected.

Then she saw a man on the other side, leaning on a shovel.  “It’s not so swift you can’t wade through,” he said.  “I done it.”  He looked to be college age, although something told Elizabeth that he wasn’t in college.  Not just his grammar, but his clothes, the trucker’s hat pulled low on his forehead.  “Just go up there, to where that fallen tree is.  The water won’t go above your shins, I swear.”  Elizabeth did, taking off her boots and tucking them beneath her armpits, so they were like two little wings sticking out of her back… And the man was nice, waiting to help her scramble up the banks on the other side, taking hold of wrists.  He wasn’t that much taller than she was, maybe five seven to her five three, and his build, while muscled, was slight.  He was almost handsome, really… His T-shirt showed sweat stains at the armpits and the neckline, a drop of perspiration dangled from his nose. “Thank you,” she said.   He didn’t let go.

From Walter’s perspective.  He has just raped and killed another teenage girl:

She should be flattered, this girl who no one else had claimed, that a man, a nice-looking man, wanted her.  A man who would please her, if she would allow herself to be pleased.  “Are you going to tell?” he asked.  She said she wouldn’t, and he wished he could believe her.  He didn’t, though.  So he did what he had to do.  He was tamping down the hole he dug when he saw the other girl coming.  How much had she seen?  Anything, everything?  He thought fast, told her how to cross the stream.  He held his hands out to her, and she didn’t hesitate.  Her hands felt cool and smooth against his, which were burning with the new calluses from the digging.

The story travels back and forth in time, between the 15-year-old Elizabeth and her twenty years older self, Eliza, who suddenly receives a letter from Walter.  He claims to want to talk with her, to apologize, perhaps even to tell her what other girls he abducted and where they are buried.   He presumes on their 39 days together, as if they had a special friendship, and wants to play on her guilt to get her to recant her testimony in hopes of escaping his coming execution.  What guilt, you might wonder?  The guilt that comes from being “the girl that lived.”

As with last year’s Edgars, I’ll be reviewing and ranking the nominees.  Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, so far, is the one to beat!