Harlan Coben is a nice guy. I had the chance to interview him a few
years ago, while he was still writing his successful and wildly
entertaining Myron Bolitar series. That conversation, as well as
the email chatter we exchanged before and after the interview, had
the same comfortable, effortless humor one might encounter over
beers with a buddy. Coben exudes nice-guy-ness in his personality
and in his prose, a fact that is all the more interesting since he
has built a career on making up stories about people killing each
But then, Coben's protagonists are nice guys, too. That may be one
of the qualities that draw fans to Coben's work in ever increasing
droves. Harlan Coben writes about nasty things happening to nice
people, who then find a way to overcome --- and get some major
NO SECOND CHANCE is a prime example. The third stand-alone novel in
what loyal Coben fans hope is nothing more than an extended
intermission in the Myron Bolitar series, NO SECOND CHANCE jumps
out of the blocks with an opening sentence that is a bit like a
trapdoor. Get anywhere near that sentence and suddenly --- WHOA!
--- you've fallen in, chapters whizzing by as you sink deeper and
deeper into the story.
Dr. Marc Seidman is a plastic surgeon specializing in
reconstructive surgery. He's also a nice guy --- not a boy scout,
but a decent human being. One day Marc wakes up in a hospital bed
he has been laying in for twelve days to the realization that he
and Monica, his wife, have been shot while standing in their own
kitchen. Monica was killed in the shooting and Tara, the couple's
infant daughter, is missing.
A ransom message soon restores Marc's hope that Tara is alive. But
in a decision no one should have to make, Marc ignores the
kidnapper's warning and alerts the police. It's a move that Marc
lives to regret, as the bad guys make off with the ransom money ---
supplied by Marc's wealthy but cold-hearted father-in-law --- and
with Tara. Marc is left to bear the unthinkable burden of the loss
of his daughter, clinging against hope that she is somehow still
alive, despite evidence to the contrary.
But then, eighteen months later, another ransom message is
delivered, along with evidence that Tara is alive. With each step
Marc makes to recover his daughter, the mystery of the shootings,
his wife's death and Tara's kidnapping seems to recede into darker
and darker shadows.
While Coben's fans may miss the Myron Bolitar series, there is
little to complain about. Like it's predecessors, NO SECOND CHANCE
is a taught thriller, peppered generously with often-funny
dialogue. It's the combination that made the Bolitar series so
readable and so popular and earned the author a shelf-straining
string of awards. But by sending Myron off for a bit of "R and R",
Coben has given himself a chance to stretch out beyond the bounds
of established characters and fan expectations to try his hand at
material that is a bit darker, a shade more ominous. Familiar
elements remain, however.
Family is a strong theme in all of Coben's work and NO SECOND
CHANCE is no exception. While Marc Seidman attempts to unravel the
tragic events in his own life, he continues to deal with the
everyday burden of love, duty and guilt that define his less than
comfortable relationship with his parents, who live in the same
neighborhood, only blocks away. The very house Marc lives in was
once the home of another family, whose secrets, once whispered in
schoolyards, are the reality for the troubled Dina Levinsky, an old
schoolmate of Mark's who materializes with new secrets that may
unlock the mystery at hand.
NO SECOND CHANCE is the latest addition to a body of work by a
writer whose skills continue to evolve. Readers, even die-hard
Myron Bolitar fans, should be grateful. Coben's work reflects the
spark and enthusiasm of someone who truly enjoys what he is doing.
Harlan Coben is a nice guy having fun concocting what-ifs rooted in
the nightmares of nice guys everywhere. But don't read NO SECOND
CHANCE because he's a nice guy. Read it because he's very good at
what he does.
Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 22, 2011