Run Away by Harlan Coben

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Reviewed by Rod McLary

Simon Greene is a successful and rich wealth management consultant; his wife Ingrid is an ex-model of Scandinavian origin but is now a respected paediatrician in a private hospital.  They live with two of their three children – Anya [the youngest] who is a student at an exclusive private school and Sam [the middle child] who is a first-year student at Amherst College – in an apartment near Central Park in New York City.

Their eldest child – Paige – is a junkie and is living on the streets of New York.

Thus, the scene is set for a thriller which takes the reader on a journey through the darkest and seediest side of New York where life can be ‘nasty, brutish and short’.  The reader will meet drug dealers and users, contract killers, random killers and members of a cult where the protection of inheritance is more important than human life.

There are also secrets – which drive the narrative and most of which are disclosed only at the final denouement.

The novel’s protagonist – Simon Greene – is determined to retrieve Paige from her life in the drug culture and rescue her from the clutches of Aaron who seems to be committed to ensuring that Paige remains under his control.  This admirable – but perhaps misguided – determination of Simon’s places his, Ingrid’s and Paige’s lives at great risk.

Running alongside Simon and his adventures is the seemingly random and unconnected series of killings which are clearly professional ‘hits’ but the purpose of which is unclear.  These killings introduce the reader to Ash and Dee Dee who are both about thirty and are products of the New York foster care system.  Each has been in about 14 different foster homes and, on four occasions, they have been in the same home at the same time.  Ash is the killer while Dee Dee’s role at first seems less clear.  What is clear though is that Ash loves Dee Dee but is concerned that, if he articulates his love, she will not reciprocate and what he has now will be lost.

The reader will also meet Hester ‘a tiny woman in her early to mid-seventies with curly blonde-to-gray hair and fire in her eyes’ [19].  Hester answers her phone with one word – a demand really – ‘articulate’.  Hester is Simon’s lawyer.  Still to be met is Cornelius – a black American – who is able to link Simon into the drug culture and who proves to be a great help to Simon in what later transpires as he tracks down Paige.

In the background and biding its time until a rather dramatic entrance is ‘the cult’ – the Truth Haven.  The Truth Haven is the connector between the various strands of the novel and the ways in which those connections are made are best left to the reader to find out.

The reader may wonder where the police are in all of this mayhem.  In this book, they play only a small part as Simon is determined to go his own way in tracking down Paige.  In doing so, he manages to find out the purpose of the killings and thus explain the involvement of the cult.  It is then left to the police to pick up all the pieces as Simon and his family return to their normal lives.

Harlan Coben is clearly a skilled and creative writer.  In Run Away, he has devised a complex plot which touches on – and more often than not immerses itself in – the dark and dangerous sub-cultures which exist around us.  However, in spite of the complexities of its plot, the author is able to skilfully draw together the various elements into a cohesive and thrilling whole.

Along the way, the author occasionally makes subtle comments about Simon’s life style which suggest that he is not entirely convinced that Simon is as ‘good’ as he appears to be.  These comments provide a balance to what seems to be a privileged lifestyle enjoyed by the Greenes and how their wealth and ready access to expensive lawyers and medical practitioners cushion some of the harder knocks of life.

As mentioned above, there are many secrets in this novel and most are disclosed by its conclusion.  However, there is one which is not and its nature raises some interesting questions about morality and the law.  This secret involves a crime committed by one person who believes it to be known only to that person; however, a second person also knows the secret.  Should the first person share the secret with the second?  Should the second person tell the first that the secret is known?  This may sound confusing and it is!  But it does raise an interesting moral and legal question which is teased out in the final pages of the novel.

Overall, Run Away is an excellent read.  The plot is sufficiently complex to hold the interest of the reader through all its pages but clear enough that confusion doesn’t erupt.  The pace is well sustained and the writing fluent and articulate.  There are one or two loose ends which are not fully tied off but largely by the end of the novel the reader will be more than satisfied.  There seems to be a slight disregard for those characters which are killed off – and the death of one or two of them may surprise the reader.  Still, it is a thriller and death by murder is to be expected.

Harlan Coben is a best-selling author of some thirty-one novels which have sold over 70 million copies.  His novels are well-known for their twists and turns – and the resurfacing of unresolved issues or secrets from the past.  This novel is no exception in that regard.

Run Away

[2019]

by Harlan Coben

Penguin Random House

ISBN 978 1 78 089426 3

367pp; $32.99

 

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