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I very much enjoyed "Tell No-one" by Harlan Coben, (later a film with Michael Douglas, maybe Clifhanger could review that for us!) - so when I spotted "Gone for Good" on the bookshelves at my local Waterstones, I made a grab for it.
In this crime thriller, Will Klein tells us his story. The novel opens on the day of his mother's funeral. Sunny Klein was an unusually bright, intelligent and loved woman and yet the platters ordered for the mourners are left untouched and, aside from immediate family, there are precious few mourners. Eleven years previously, Will's brother murdered a local girl and disappeared despite an international manhunt. Will's family privately believe that Julie (who happened to be Will's ex girlfriend) was murdered by a second man and brother Ken too, is dead. Neither family have moved from their homes and it seems that the cancer which claimed Sunny Klein was a symptom of the pain and loss that have been devouring her over these eleven years.
But before her death, Sunny has told Will that Ken is still alive and he finds a photograph of his, now much older, brother hidden amongst her things.
Will is accompanied by his lover, Sheila Rodgers. This is the woman whom he knows he will spend his life with and yet she will not speak about her past. As Will works in a kids' shelter he is patient and feels that she will speak to him one day about the suffering that left her beautiful face slightly misshapen.
The night of his mother's funeral, Sheila disappears.
Still with me so far? Ken's alive, Sunny is dead and Sheila has gone missing!
Enter the FBI, who are looking for Sheila, in the shape of Agent Pistillo. Apparently Shiela's fingerprints were found at a double murder scene in New Mexico. Agent Pistillo has his own reasons for working on Will.
Enter "Squares" - Will's reformed Nazi friend, who is now working on the streets to save homeless children as well as being a celebrity Yoga guru. - And his girlfriend is pregnant, causing some upset in the relationship. He'll help Will any way he can. Enter Katy Miller, the murdered Julie's young sister, looking for closure. She thinks Will can help provide it.
Now, for the dark characters. Throughout the novel, we learn about Ken's childhood friends, John "Ghost" Asselta and Philip McGuane and how they've grown into men and killers both. There are lots of characters in these pages and you'd best keep track of each and every one of them. I did find them well written, to the extent that the author could still hide the plot twists.
Now, I don't want to give away the story, because then there wouldn't be much point in reading the book, but I will say that the plotting is very good in the main. The last twist, however, was rather predictable.
Many of the characters are dealing with Fear, in various guises, during the novel. The truth of each fear brings a stomach churning cogniscence as you read.
The author returns often to the emotive descriptions of damage done to the innocents: victims' families; perpetrators' loved ones; the street kids. This is extremely effective, without becoming too maudlin.
There are moments of welcome humour here too, but mainly found in the dialogue between Will and Squares. Raquel/Roscoe, the rather unconvincing transvestite who helps them is written as light relief, effectively enough.
The action has a gritty realism, which for me made it all the more frightening. The sense of helplessness felt by Will during a physical attack makes a welcome change to the usual brave and macho hero.
I did enjoy this book and would recommend it to those who like the crime genre, with one qualification.
The style in the first eight or so chapters started to really irritate me. Written in the first person, Will is self deprecatory to the nth degree. I think it is supposed to come off as charming or witty, but it annoyed me to the point that I questioned finishing the novel. I am glad I persevered however, because this annoying trait diminished greatly further into the story.
Just one more thing. Despite everything I've told you about this book, the key is Redemption. Just remember that if you pick it up
Eleven years ago Will's ex-girlfriend Julie was murdered and his brother disappeared leaving behind a trail of blood. The logical conclusion would seem to be that there was a struggle and Will's brother escaped injured, went on the run and was never seen again. Will has never accepted this and believes to this day that there was a third person involved.
Life moves on and Will falls in love with a girl named Sheila who disappears in the middle of the night and is found dead several days later, killed in exactly the same way as Julie. It would be logical to assume that someone has a grudge against Will. The who and the why are more than a little bit vague.
Will finds photographic proof that his brother is still alive and sets off on a quest to find him and prove his innocence aided and abetted by Katie, the dead Julies younger sister. Surely Will can succeed where the FBI and an international man hunt have failed?
Will is helped along his journey by an ex-Nazi turned internationally acclaimed yoga guru who spends his nights helping the homeless children of the city in the hopes of persuading them that there is an alternative to drugs and prostitution. This gives him entry into the seedy underworld of switched identities and Mafioso dons.
Quite frankly its all too absurd and convoluted for words. I never developed any empathy for any of the characters, the book failed to come alive and I'd go so far as to describe it as a tedious read with incredibly flimsy leaps of faith linking one bit of plot to the next. I reached a point where I was reading it to get it over and done with rather than to find out what happened next. It got more and more bizarre and relationships became more and more tenuous to the point that even in a fictional world they really didn't make any sense at all. There were plenty of plot twists but they didn't flow with the story. It was almost as if someone had a flow diagram for the perfect novel which read page 20 insert scene on murder, page 26 reveal sighting of third person in vicinity, page 40 add obscure detail and this was rigidly stuck to even though the story hadn't quite made it that far.
I've seen Harlan Cobens name gracing the covers of a number of novels lately, quite why he's the current darling of the crime genre is beyond me. His writing is mediocre at best and that's a very generous compliment for the author of a novel with more holes than a Swiss cheese.
It is all too easy to become obsessed with the past constantly wondering what could have been. What if you had stayed with that person? Tried harder at school? Not set fire to the local youth centre? People that dwell on the past for too long are going to live sad lives as they cannot appreciate their present or look to the future. Personally, I try to live in the moment enjoying myself before I die. I'll take note of the mistakes I have made and learn from them, but won't let bygones upset me. Not everyone is as lucky when it comes to the ability to forget the past, for some people it is part of their very fabric and leaks into their work. I have to assume that one such person is Harlan Cohen the highly successful crime thriller author, his books are almost always about a character's past coming back to haunt them. Having read the seemingly same story by Coben on several occasions could 'Gone for Good' stand out?
15 years ago Will Klein's family was thrown into turmoil when a local girl was murdered and his brother, Ken, was the prime suspect. On that day Ken fled and has never been seen since, some believe him dead, others that he has travelled to Europe. In the present day, Will has got over the stigma of having a criminal brother and now runs a charity for homeless children. He has a new love and all is going well, until his mother dies uttering her final words that Ken is coming back. There is more to Ken's disappearance than first meets the eye and more than one person is looking for him. One pursuer is the violent Ghost - a man trained to kill. Can Will find his brother before anyone else does whilst his own live disintegrates around him?
As mentioned in my opening paragraph Coben is an author who writes about the past a lot. Some authors have threads that crop up on occasion, but some to the point that they become repetitive enough to be boring. Dean Koontz falls victim to this and in his lesser novels so does Coben. At his worst Coben seems to write on auto pilot coming up with almost identical storylines. In fact, 'Gone' is not an exception to this as on the surface it is yet another book about a person with a hidden past coming back to get them. For the first 20-50 pages I was worried about the same old rehash, but thankfully this was one of the books that reminded me why the author is so popular in the first place.
The technique of writing in the present about things in the past is not an easy one to pull off. You have to make people's memories seem believable as several years will dull the senses. Great authors like Agatha Christie have written books that reflect on the past and failed to make a compelling read. In the case of 'Gone' Coben succeeds. Although the book has similar themes as other works the actual story is a fast thriller that entertains with its numerous twists and turns. Coben has managed to develop a multilayered story that seems to be about separate events, but as time progresses they draw together. For me the sign of a good mystery is when you are slightly confused as to exactly what happened only for the author to conclude all in a clear and concise way. This means that you are able to reflect back on what you have just read and notice all the clues you missed.
The mystery and structure of 'Gone' is of a high standard, but that is not the case with all the elements. The characters in particular suffer as the leads are a little dull. Will is pretty much a nothing character and is merely used as a vessel for others around him. The same can be said for the two female love interests who do not have any sort of real depth. It is up to the smaller side characters to shine with best mate Squares and enemy Ghost being the only two people in the book that you are likely to remember. The lack of charismatic leads does not ruin the book, but it does mean that you are unable to feel the emotional depth needed for a classic.
'Gone for Good' is easily one of the better Harlan Coben novels even though it uses the same contrived storylines as the majority of his books. It is the elements of mystery and danger that make it stand out, not the fact that it bounces from the past to the present. I still prefer Coben's Myron Bolitar novels as they are a series which has allowed the hero to develop, but as one of his standalone books this probably ranks as high as 'The Woods'.
Author: Harlan Coben
Price: amazon uk - £4.48
play.com - £5.00
I am a big fan of Harlan Coben and have read all his books and currently awaiting the publication of his new stand alone novel.
Gone For Good is another of his page-turning thrillers which held me captivated from start to finish.
The story's narrative features Will Klein, the youngest son of the Klein family from New Jersey.
Just before his mother dies, she tells him that his older brother Ken is still alive. Ken is believed to be dead since disappearing eleven years earlier, after being charged with the rape and murder of a local girl, who also happened to be Will's first love.
The family have chosen to believe he was dead, but it appears his mother knew different, yet kept it to herself. After her death from cancer, Will finds a photograph which he believes could be a recent photograph of his brother, and begins his search for the truth.
This is where things start to happen, as Will's girlfriend, Sheila who he loves dearly, disappears leaving him only a rather cryptic note. Will is then notified her fingerprints have been found at a murder scene in New Mexico and she is suspected of murder by the FBI.
Feeling both confused and devastated, Will enlists the help of his friends from Covenant House, the place for runaway and troubled teens who he works for, as he begins his search for the truth.
As Will begins his search for his brother and the truth of what happened eleven years ago, he uncovers lies, betrayal and family secrets, all of which have been hidden away until now.
Relationships with his family become strained as he is seen as becoming obsessed with the past and not taken seriously. But are his family also hiding secrets or are they just wanting to get on with their lives?
From the start I believed the character of his father would be a key factor in the plot, but I found myself changing my mind then changing it back again throught the book as Coben does what he excels at - keeping you guessing right until the end!
Will won't stop until he uncovers the truth, which in usual Coben -style is never what you think it will be.
There are one or two other characters in this book worthy of mention also. One, an old friend of Will's brother Ken and known as 'The Ghost' is a chilling character and also a very violent man who will do whatever it takes to protect his interests, along with fellow bad guy, McGuane, another old friend of Ken.
I loved 'The Ghost' character, definitely one of Coben's best 'bad guys' he has came up with.
There is also Will's good friend 'Squares' who teaches Yoga, a transvestite named Wanda, and also a disabled bed-ridden former pimp thrown in for good measure. It may seem a bit random, but they are an integral part of the story and all become linked together at the end, even though you may find yourself wondering how!
Coben is indeed the master of the sub plot and is brilliant at linking everything together after building up the suspense.
A lot of detail has been paid to the characters, they are well developed and you may even find yourself warming a little to the bad guys.
As the story goes on, Will realises nothing is as it seems as the search for his brother becomes a search for a killer, a victim and the truth. Will finds that he also did not know his girlfriend as well as he thought. What secrets had she been hiding? Will finds himself unsure of exactly who he can trust and also becomes increasingly in danger as his quest for answers unfolds.
As is usual with Coben novels, you are guaranteed many twists and turns before you reach the end and 'Gone For Good' is no exception. I had no idea how it would end. Any slight inclination I thought I had about how the story would end proved to be wrong.
Another thing I particularly enjoy about Coben's work is that it is not over the top or far fetched. This book, along with his other work, has a believable quality to the plot which keeps you gripped without thinking to yourself : "There's no way that could happen!"
I literally could not put this book down until I had finished it. Coben's writing flowed from page to page, the suspense and danger slowly building to the climax. I can thoroughly recommend you acquaint yourself with Harlan Coben if you enjoy a good thriller.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Orion; New edition edition (6 Jan 2003)
Eleven years ago Will Kleins brother, Ken, disappeared after apparently raping and murdering a neighbour, Julie Miller. Ken avoided capture and his family believed hed gone forever.
Years later, Will returns to the family home after his mother dies. While looking through her personal effects, he finds an old photo of his parents on a cruise. As he absent mindedly toys with the frame, the photograph inside starts to slip, and underneath is a man he recognises, although he can scarcely believe his eyes. The date on the photo is from two years ago. The man is Ken.
Still trying to grapple with the thought that his brother may be coming back, Will turns to his girlfriend Sheila. They are madly in love yet all of a sudden she is gone too. Then the FBI turn up, wanting to question Will because Sheilas fingerprints have been found at a murder scene
With his best friend, Squares, Will tries to uncover whats going on while slowly trying to come to terms that after all this time his brother is still alive. Where is Sheila and does she have something to do with Kens disappearance? And who is the mysterious Ghost character and why does he want to find Ken so badly?
Whats going on?!
* What I liked *
There is a really clever slow build up of suspense in this book, which made me want to race through it and find out what was going to happen on the one hand, yet not wanting to finish it!
The characters are really likeable and the reader gets drawn into their lives fairly quickly. The friendship between Will and his friend, Squares, is especially strong. They work together in Covenant House, which is a centre for runaways. They try and help people but sometimes these people dont want helping. Squares and Will have frequent heated exchanges, each knowing how far to go with the other and when to stop.
Katy, Julies little sister, turns up wanting to speak with Will. She now thinks Ken is innocent. But where is he? And what secrets do Will and Squares uncover about Sheila and her past life?
The twists and turns in this book are plentiful. I read a lot of crime stories that are easy to second guess, but I have to say this wasnt typical of the genre. The more you read, the more Coben lays another surprise on you, and the reader has to try and work out where its all going and how its all going to fit together. They keep coming throughout, right up until the final pages!
The book is told from Wills point of view and his thoughts and feelings are well expressed. The reader senses his confusion as the investigation reveals secrets and lies about his familys past and betrayal by the women hes loved.
* The stars of the show *
Squares was a particularly strong character. There was excellent rapport between him and Will, and also as a person that has seen the bad things in life yet turned himself around to help others.
John Asselta, The Ghost, is a particularly menacing character. His appearance in the book is fleeting, but when he turns up you know that hes pure evil. His violent temper is always on the surface, ready to break through at the slightest provocation.
He blinked. Shes dead, Will.
My heart sank.
I grew bored waiting and He started laughing then. The sound echoed in the stillness, ripping through the air, clawing at the leaves. I stood there, unmoving. He pointed and shouted, Gotcha! Oh, Im only joshing, Willie boy. Having a little fun.
Will does come across as a bit of a weakling. His cowardly behaviour is described as he tells in flashbacks of when he was younger and how Ken used to fight on his behalf because he was too scared to. But now his bravery is about to be challenged will(y) manage to overcome his fears?
* Quotes *
Their job of trying to find Sheila ensures Will and Squares deal with the seedier parts of life and they frequently need to question very dubious characters to get information. Raquel (aka Roscoe) is a cross dresser that helps Will with his enquiries. Raquel does street work. Hes six foot six, 300 pounds and wears size 14 (ladies) shoes.
You looking so good, Sweet Willy, Raquel said.
Gee thanks, Raquel I said.
Tasty enough to eat.
Ive been working out, I said. Makes me extra yummy.
* Final word *
I really enjoyed this book. It cost me £1.50 in a charity shop and it was money well spent. Its well written, has amusing parts as well as extraordinary sadness when Will describes his mothers death and his desperation over Sheilas disappearance. The story grips you from the start and keeps you engrossed throughout. Its very easy to read, with fairly short chapters and frequent breaks in between.
The full five stars and a hearty recommendation from me.
* Other info *
Other books by Harlan Coben:
One False Move
The Final Detail
Tell No One
Thanks for reading.
Years ago, Julie Miller was found brutally strangled in the basement of her house in the township of Livingston, New Jersey. On that day, Will's brother, Ken Klein, became the subject of an international manhunt ¿