Thursday, August 9, 2007

"Whatever’s Just Slightly Worse Than Useless..."

OK, so, technically, this is simply a re-posting of my Facebook review of the book, but I thought I'd get the ball rolling. Stay tuned for another Coben review (Tell No One, which--impossibly--I liked even less than this one).

Book Review: Promise Me by Harlan Coben (2006)

Read: last week

This Harlan Coben guy...boy, I don't know...

Strike One: really, really weak dialogue that HC is trying (I'm assuming) to pass off as clever. This includes Myron (repeatedly) mocking antagonists by sarcastically repeating their rather feeble retorts and adding "ho ho...that really is hilarious. Honestly, how do you come up with that?"; Myron's sidekick Win (the only truly interesting character in the book) answering the phone--every single fucking time...and it probably happens 20 times, i.e. roughly 19 times more than necessary--with the exact same greeting: "Articulate"; and Myron using--non-ironically--"we can do this the easy way or the hard way" in a conversation.

Strike Two: limp attempts at humour that stick out like a sore thumb and invariably fall flat. This includes Myron referencing an old (admittedly funny) Seinfeld stand-up bit about how, if you're buying a detergent solely on the basis of its ability to get blood out of clothes, you have more problems than cleanliness that is so awkwardly introduced it actually made me cringe at the page; as well as a joke about a book editor, a desert island, "tweaking," a glass of orange juice, and human urine that I'm positive Coben made up for the book (even though he introduces it as an old joke) and isn't funny anyway. Just stop.

Strike Three (SPOILERISH BUT NOT REALLY):'s the thing. If you're writing a mystery novel, you have to walk a fine line between not giving away the villain too early (which is boring/predictable) and not giving the reader any hints at all and then simply revealing the villain right at the end (which is frustrating/unsatisfying). A good mystery writer will do this by dropping subtle clues along the way (think: The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects) that, after you've completed the book (or film) and you look back, it takes on a whole new meaning. Coben...does not do this, choosing instead the cheap reveal at the end (this has happened in both Coben books I've read). Now, some might point to this as a sign that Coben is, in fact, very good at creating twists--that is, setting up a reader for one ending and then skillfully veering off in a different direction. But...that's only true if the twist develops organically, which I really don't think it does here. It's a cheap thrill and, instead of resonating, it just left me feeling cold.

And yet, somehow, I'm compelled to read more of his stuff. I'm going to be the guy that's read all of his books who, when asked about him as a writer, shrugs his shoulders and says: "meh...he's ok." I can feel it. And I'll be right.

No comments: