Book Review: Caught-a novel by Harlan Coben

“The world is nothing but a bunch of thin lines separating what we think as extremes.”(236) Harlan Coben; Caught.

Caught is a novel that begins with a surprising twist in the destiny of a social worker. This opening part introduces another major character, a reporter. However, even after the twists in the beginning that could very well remind the readers that much would be coming in the following section of the book (and that is guaranteed), the rest of the novel, until the ending part, remains rather bleak for a thriller. In the case of some books, all is well that ends well.  The novel ends with three words; “I forgive you.” This sentence reflects happiness and contentment, a perfect way to end the book. The language of the book though, is not literary and is matter-of-fact. This could be substantial in creating a specific voice for the novel. Coben’s language has its influence upon readers undeniably; it takes the readers into its flow and rhythm. It is simple too. And it is this linguistic flow that kept me going most of the time, through the bleak parts of the thriller towards the most gripping and surprising end.

This is my first Coben novel for review. The prose is lucid and fast paced with sans philosophy and zero didacticism, but plenty of hard-to-believe-realism and zoomed in pictures of lives in American suburbs. Often it is seen that writers, as they gain their dominant voice among readers, find themselves tagged with labels. Such labels as, writer of ‘literary fiction’, ‘horror’, ‘historical fiction’, ‘historical fantasy’ (such as the books by Tim Powers), ‘suspense thrillers’, ‘legal thrillers’ (of course, a review of John Grisham’s The Confession will soon appear on this wall), and many others, create as well as destroy the ‘writerly’ spaces that are unique for each writer according to his or her subjectivity.

Labels have a paradoxical binary role to play. Within a label a writer may find himself adapted and indulge in a more focused production. However, sometimes, this very focus backfires and provides no options for the writer to work on something apart from the routine, even if he or she wants to go beyond what is their usual way of writing. This is much like the misery of the character Paul Sheldon from the novel Misery, by Stephen King. Obviously, it is market that creates such labels and governs the very system of professional writing.
Courtesy: Google Images

Harlan Coben addresses himself a writer of “suburban thrillers”. Suburban thrillers often show, “the same brownstone walkups where family life often occurred to be simultaneously the backdrop and setting of the most anti-social criminal behaviour and planning. With everyone living on top of each other in these tenements, a criminal caper could be hatched around the same table from which the kids were sent packing to bed.” Roger Westcombe writes this about the genre of suburban thrillers, which started making its presence a decade after World War II, in his article titled “Domesticity That Never Sleeps: the Emergence of the Suburban Thriller”. His words ring so very close to what Mr. Coben does in his books.

"You'll talk to some writers who write the serial killer book about people who hack up people for no reason - that's not me. The international thriller that reaches the White House? That's not what I do. My milieu is the neighbourhood, the family, suburban America - reflective of suburbia all over the world," Coben explains in an interview given to journalist Chris Wiegand of Coben was born in New Jersey and his novels reflect the setting of his own middle-class background.

Women become a significant motif in most of Harlan Coben’s novels that boast of its setting in the suburbia. In many of his novels a woman goes missing and a woman goes searching. Wendy Tynes, news reporter with the NTC news is one who is connected with the victims of the girl-missing, the central theme of the story, as well as responsible for nailing the case of the notorious Dan Mercer, a social worker and accused pedophile, the second theme of the story. These two cases converge, surprisingly and with elegant craftsmanship, into being Caught. The final three chapters and the Epilogue (pp: 379) unveils some unexpected twists in the plot in an endearing Harlan Coben simple-prose. The puzzle of death is reversed into the clarity and promise of new life.

A character, who offers an occasional punch to the story, without being under the spotlight, turns out to be crucial and the cross on the grave—Ed Grayson. His turn to be big and doer of significant things comes in the final chapter. His son was molested and used in the making of child pornography by his wife’s brother. But he had believed it to be Dan Mercer, the person snared by the media and masked as a monster. Dan Mercer, the social worker, was caught on camera in Wendy’s journalistic adventure at the start of the novel. When Ed Grayson realizes the truth later, he had to do the atonement. If I mention the events that lead Ed Grayson to his deliverance, that would bring a humongous spoiler upon the potential readers of Caught. There is nothing worse than a review with a major twist in the story bared in the dry and apathetic autopsy by the critic.

In Caught no character in particular carries the title of the protagonist. Two ideas, an accused pedophile on the run for his life, and a missing girl, become the binary of significance. It would not entirely be surprising if the readers find it difficult to tag a particular character the protagonist of this novel, I mean, those readers who are used with the style of writing novels with some character being at the epicenter of all the action, alone.

Wendy Tynes stays for a long time in the story and has a role in the main action, though not without any exaggeration of her own space in the story. She is the one who connects all the crucial dots at the end of the novel, for the readers. Wendy is a powerful woman, born out of fire, who had lost her husband in an accident, in the past. Wendy Tynes, in terms of her personality and relationship with other characters, can be proclaimed the hero of the novel. Coben relies on this character to solve the puzzles and nail tight what is left out from the main plot for the reason of maintaining suspense or due to the demands of other issues within the plot.
Courtesy: Google Images

Caught promises a lot about the writer. Harlan Coben’s suburban America is not a complacent space of the bourgeois, but the location of brooding evil and unexpected human conflict. Caught has an aesthetics that has direct bearings upon the middle class life in suburban America. Harlan Coben’s sense of ‘ordinary evil’ and ‘common place terror’ is remarkable. He is, sure to be, the one to look at, with full expectations, for a good book.


Unknown said…
Good work dear,well-expressed:)

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