Review

Just One Look

by Harlan Coben



Harlan Coben seems to be all over the place these days. His name
keeps popping up here and there. It's not really surprising, given
that he has written a number of increasingly competent and popular
thrillers over the past several years. But the reason for his
recent notoriety may well be due to water cooler word of his latest
novel JUST ONE LOOK, which is far and away his best work to
date.

Coben's recent novels have a unifying theme running through them:
disappearance. This is not to say that all of his novels are alike;
the opposite in fact is true. JUST ONE LOOK also deals with a
disappearance, but in this case we know exactly what happens to the
missing person. The question that keeps the pages turning and the
plot chugging along is the "why" behind the event.

The person asking "why" is Grace Lawson, a suburbanite who splits
her time between her work as an artist and her duties as wife to
Jack Lawson and mother to their two children. Grace's placid life
is shattered when she picks up pictures of a recent family outing
at her local photomat store and finds a picture in the group that
does not belong. It seems much older than the other pictures and is
not one of her family, but of five people. Grace does not recognize
four of them, but the fifth person looks like a much younger
version of her husband. When Grace shows the photo to Jack that
evening, he denies that he's that person.

Later that night, however, Jack makes a hushed phone call, drives
off with the picture and does not return. Over the next several
days Grace does a dangerous juggling act, attempting to shield her
children from Jack's absence while trying to determine the reason
for it, as well as the secret behind the photo. When Jack calls
Grace shortly after his disappearance, stating that he needs some
"space," she realizes that he is in terrible danger. What she does
not realize, however, is that she and her children are in dire
jeopardy as well. Grace acquires some likely and unlikely allies,
some of who seem to know bits and pieces of the puzzle of her
husband's life. But when Grace discovers that her home has been
under video surveillance, she realizes that the only person who she
can trust is herself.

Coben throws several interesting twists into JUST ONE LOOK. For
one, the reader learns almost immediately what has happened to
Jack. Grace also undergoes an interesting transformation, from
secure hausfrau to avenging angel, even as she is dragged kicking
and screaming toward it. There is also a villain, a shadowy,
terrifying character named Eric Wu who is described by one of the
principals in JUST ONE LOOK as being so scary that ... well, read
the book. I won't give it away, as it's but one more example of
Coben's ongoing growth as a writer.

But what is truly fascinating in JUST ONE LOOK is the manner in
which Coben weaves the undercarriage of this tale and then slowly
uncovers it. Coben's narrative pacing has never been better. This
is a complex tale, and in the hands of a lesser writer the
explanation would have been a hurried, wrap-it-up affair. Not so
with Coben and JUST ONE LOOK; matters continue to be revealed even
on the final page. Even though it's only May, JUST ONE LOOK may be
the beach book of this long, hot summer.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Just One Look
by Harlan Coben

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451213203
  • ISBN-13: 9780451213204