Book #06

Just One Look by Harlan Coben

Grace Lawson is living a happy, straightforward life in the suburbs with her husband, Jack, and two young children. But that security is about to come to a brutal end.

For when Grace picks up a set of holiday snaps, amongst them is one shot that doesn’t fit: a faded image of a life that Grace doesn’t recognise and of her husband as she never knew him.

Within 12 hours, Jack has disappeared, a brutal hitman is stalking her family and the safe world she knows has been turned upside down. And all Grace can see is that the past is coming back to haunt the present and people are getting hurt.

I do enjoy a wee Coben novel every so often. I know what I’m getting, there’s a formula, there’s never too much to think about, and I can allow myself to be carried along by the plot. I don’t expect character background or development, I don’t expect literature. It’s like drinking cheap gin when you run out of the good stuff.

With Coben, there’s always that moment where you really need to suspend your belief quite a bit. With Just One Look, you need to suspend it for the whole novel. It all seems very far-fetched, very perfectly timed, and very very polished. There’s no sign of the jaggedness of real life; you’re just hit with plot point after convenient plot point as you wait for Coben to tie it all up nicely in the end. And of course, he does so as quickly as he can.

I won’t get into the realm of spoilers, but there were a lot of decisions here which didn’t make sense, plot points which seemed to have no relevance. Violence and shock seemed to be strategically placed just so we knew Coben wasn’t messing about. There was no real need.

There are no likable or relatable characters here. Grace is a woman cut from cardboard - we see only glimpses of emotion from her as Coben moves her around his board. The secondary characters are mere shadows, without any wisp of their constitution escaping. It just feels so unreal, so lacking in any kind of passion from both the characters, the author, and the reader.

And yet, I got what I wanted. I wanted that fast paced mystery which keeps me going, I wanted the thrill of trying to work it all out (disclaimer: not a difficult task here). I wanted a Coben novel, and a Coben novel is what I got.