Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Harlan Coben is a very popular writer of crime novels – he has sold over 75 million books.  Clearly, he has a significant following and this book will surely satisfy his followers.  It is fast-paced with twists in the plot and sudden unexpected disclosures which will challenge any reader to foresee.

Unlike many such writers, he has not written a series of books about one particular person whether private detective, police officer or forensic psychologist.  His books are stand-alone novels and this one is no exception.

Napoleon Dumas – known as ‘Nap’ – is a police investigator in a small town in New Jersey.  Like many protagonists in crime novels, he is intelligent, resourceful and a seriously good investigator.  Nap is also a renegade and not afraid of defying his bosses when he knows he is right.  He has a French heritage as may be suggested by his name.  While this has no bearing on the story, it seems to be something of which Nap is quite proud.  It is mentioned more than once and usually to demonstrate that Nap has excellent taste in food and wine; and that he is sensitive to the pronunciation of his surname.  It is correctly pronounced Du-mah.

Set in the mythical town of Westbridge which does not have ‘a poor side of town maybe just a poor acre’, the novel centres on the death 15 years before of Nap’s twin brother Leo and Leo’s girlfriend Diana.  Diana also happens to be the daughter of Augie the police chief – a complication which has some significance later in the story.  At the time, the death of these two teenagers was seen as either a tragic accident or a suicide pact.  The premature death of Leo still weighs heavily on Nap who continues to struggle with the fearful thought that he may have missed some clue indicating Leo’s state of mind at the time and thus been able – perhaps – to prevent his death.  Through the novel, he has one-way conversations with Leo about the investigation.  As the story unfolds, it becomes clear to Nap that while he was open and honest with Leo, Leo did not reciprocate and he had secrets which resonate through the investigation of his death.

However, the deaths remain in the past until – 15 years later – the shooting death of a police officer creates a series of events which threatens all those connected to Leo and Diana.  Nap sees a connection between the death of the police officer and the deaths of his brother and his girlfriend.  There are secrets no one wants uncovered but only by uncovering them will Nap ensure that justice triumphs in the end.

There is even something to thrill the most avid of conspiracy theorists.  Deep in the heart of Westbridge is a federal government facility in which it is rumoured that political prisoners are held and tortured.  To add verisimilitude, there is a graphic description of ‘water boarding’ – a particularly heinous form of torture of which even CIA operatives could only manage 14 seconds before capitulating.  It is no wonder that water boarding has been condemned.  The presence of this facility allows the author to stray into political intrigue to demonstrate that the government will stop at nothing – even murder – to protect its secrets.  However, the existence of the facility does not just offer the author an opportunity to express his political views.  The presence of this facility is critical to the explanation for the earlier deaths of Leo and Diana.

Running through the novel are Nap’s memories of his own girlfriend from that time and her mysterious and sudden disappearance soon after Leo and Diana died.  Clearly, this flags a plot development which some readers may be expecting almost from the beginning of the book.

Unfortunately, some elements of the novel are clichéd particularly the character of Nap as the key protagonist.  Nap is an investigator with the police service but seems to have the freedom to pursue his own investigation into the deaths for no other reason but to lay the ghosts of his brother’s death and to assuage his own guilt.  Other police officers – the good ones – are willing and able to provide timely information to Nap whenever he requires it.

However, there is much in the novel to please those readers who enjoy American style crime novels and/or thrillers.  While character development is not key to this novel, it is fast-paced with many twists and turns in the plot.  Although we finish the novel without knowing much more about the characters than we did at the beginning, there is some satisfaction in knowing that at the end justice has been served and the secrets hidden for so long are now exposed.

Don’t Let Go

[2017]

By Harlan Coben

Century/ Penguin

ISBN 978 1 78 089424 9

347pp; $32.99

 

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