The Korea Herald


From quiet domesticity to sheer terror

By Claire Lee

Published : March 23, 2012 - 18:40

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Stay Close

By Harlan Coben


A hallmark of Harlan Coben’s best-sellers has been his precise look at ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations, forced to deal with violence and the seamy side of life. These “family thrillers” are hauntingly realistic, showing how characters who could be our neighbors ― or ourselves ― discover an inner resolve.

Coben’s 22nd novel spins a new approach to his family thrillers. In the excellent “Stay Close,” Coben shows us three people who know too well the sleazy side of life and how they have either risen above their past, or fallen in its mire. “Stay Close” works well as a novel about past mistakes, fresh starts and regrets, showing the fragility of orderly lives. Are we defined by our past or by the present we have made for ourselves? Coben’s perceptive look at people facing the worst situations of their lives soars in “Stay Close.”

Ray Levine, police detective Jack Broome and Megan Pierce are each bound, in some way, by the disappearance of Stewart Green 17 years ago in Atlantic City. Back then, Ray was a talented news photographer whose photos on the battlefield brought him acclaim and awards. Now he ekes out a living as a fake paparazzo “covering” events for celebrity-fixated wealthy. Jack’s investigation into Stewart’s vanishing has become a mission for himself and for the man’s family. Megan has reinvented herself as a suburban wife and mother of two, leaving behind the days when she was known as Cassie, an exotic dancer at an Atlantic City strip bar. The disappearance of another man, 17 years to the day that Stewart vanished, pulls all three back together and kicks Broome’s investigation into high gear.

“Stay Close” skillfully illustrates the effects of life-changing moments while delving deep into each character’s psyche. Coben also weaves in the debilitating effects of physical and sexual abuse, showing how some people sadly accept this as part of their lives. Those who work at or frequent strip joints and seedy bars know all too well that the cops and the general public consider them “run-of-the-mill degenerates,” and put a higher premium on “real citizens,” even when those “normal people” slum on the dark side.

In “Stay Close,” Coben again shows his acumen for delving into our most intimate fears as he moves his engrossing story from quiet domesticity to sheer terror while keeping us highly entertained. (MCT)