STAY CLOSE is Harlan Coben’s 22nd --- and best --- novel to date. The fact that it is a stand-alone work, outside of the universe of the long-running and popular Myron Bolitar series, will disappoint the many fans that character has acquired over the years, but it shouldn’t. STAY CLOSE will have anyone who has ever cracked open a Coben book doing just that: staying close.
"The narration hums and dances and sings like nothing [Coben] has done before, and his characters are so real this time around that they almost seem to rise off the printed page."
There is any number of reasons why the novel soars above the already lofty heights established by Coben’s other works. He takes the elements that have made his books so popular --- the characters, the plot, the prose, and the ending --- and squares them in his latest. The plot is just complex enough to make you care and just simple enough to follow easily. The main players are Megan Pierce, Ray Levine and Broome (just Broome) who are brought together in the present by events that occurred some 18 years ago.
Megan is your stereotypical soccer mom with a secret. She leads a materially comfortable life, but also has an extremely interesting backstory. Cue up the video for “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom” by Everclear, and you will get the picture. Megan used to have another name as a stripper before leaving the life and never looking back.
That is, until recently, when she has found herself possessed with a strange longing for the bad old days, a time that ended abruptly when she stumbled across a body on an isolated path. Ray Levine had been Megan’s lover, and her sudden departure decimated him emotionally. Ray’s career as a photographer took an abrupt nosedive, and now he finds himself as low on his career ladder as he can possibly be, impersonating paparazzi for a celebrity experience company.
Broome is a detective who is haunted by an unsolved case involving a husband and father who disappeared some 18 years previously, and who continues on the anniversary of his disappearance to visit the wife who was left behind, wondering and waiting.
Three different events bring Megan, Ray and Broome together. Megan receives a call from an old friend, one who was a part of her former life, with news that might bring her current life crashing down around her. Ray is attacked and his camera stolen after he takes some photographs of the place where events first unfolded that ultimately caused his life and career to fall apart. Broome is assigned to a new missing person case, one that not only has a tangential tie to the case, but also has haunted him for almost two decades.
As these three people are slowly but steadily brought toward each other, they are unaware that a force of deep and disturbing evil is coming toward them as well and, having been unleashed, cannot be stopped. By the time the book is over, nothing will remain the same.
Coben, who at this point could phone in an adequate and satisfying story, shows up with his “A” game and then some. The narration hums and dances and sings like nothing he has done before, and his characters are so real this time around that they almost seem to rise off the printed page. This is especially true of a pair of folks who are as nightmarish as any you are likely to encounter this year (well, unless you watch “The Walking Dead,” but still…). In the end, though, it is the plot that will keep you reading. And if the ending isn’t a full-bore happily-ever-after one, it is just enough so to be satisfying and remain believable. Watch for STAY CLOSE to be on many “Top Ten” lists at the end of the year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 22, 2012