Saturday, January 27, 2018

Turn the Page, Excitedly: Latest Novels From Harlan Coben and Lee Child Keep the Thrills Rolling -- Book Reviews

Book Reviews & Personal Reading Recap

Harlan Coben
Don't Let Go

Lee Child
The Midnight Line

Both currently available in hardcover. 

My favorite active authors--in terms of novelists who write books I acutely enjoy reading--are the two represented here:

Harlan Coben and Lee Child 

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those who know me and/or have read this blog with some regularity over the years.

While I haven't written a ton of book reviews, when I have one or the other's latest works have typically been featured. (Coben examples: 1, 2, 3, 4; Child: 1, 2, 3)

In September 2016, I very much enjoyed meeting Harlan Coben after an excellent presentation at my hometown Skokie Public Library, and rue that a concert ticket kept me from attending a Lee Child event in 2015 even closer to my home.

As I've candidly admitted repeatedly, I am not a great reader.

At least of books.

I still read a daily newspaper and while I no longer subscribe to 10+ magazines, not a day goes by without me reading some long-form articles I find online.

And it's not like I don't read books; it's just that with most that I start, I have a hard time getting through them.

In 2017, I did read a rather substantive and terrific novel about slavery--Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (see my article here)--and I finally made a point of reading Kurt Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse Five.

But for the most part, I made my way through thrillers & page turners, some quite good if not great literature.

These include three books by the fine Japanese suspense writer, Keigo Higashino--Salvation of a Saint, The Devotion of Suspect X and Malice.

And listed here much more for my own recollection than to impress anyone, I also read page-turners titled Dead Certain (by Adam Mizner), A Criminal Defense (William Myers, Jr.), I Found You (Lisa Jewell), The Old Man (Thomas Perry) and No Exit (Taylor Adams).

Including the first couple weeks of 2018, I also read the three Coben novels I never had--Shelter, Seconds Away and Found, aimed at Young Adults but nonetheless enjoyable--and the one Child novel I hadn't gotten through before (2016's Night School).

So with Coben's Don't Let Go--consumed in a few days last October--and Child's The Midnight Line, which I polished off just before New Year's, it seems I read 16 full books in 12-1/2 months. (I also read parts of several biographies and non-fiction books, but none in full.)

This is likely far fewer than many people read, but also more than others probably did.

Which only matters in not so sheepishly reiterating what has been true for years:

Harlan Coben and Lee Child are my favorite active authors. 

This isn't dubbing them "the best." Certainly, there are current authors writing far more substantive works, even in a fictional realm. Colson Whitehead would seem to be one of them.

But even with high quality books that I enjoy, reading is an activity that ranks behind many others for me (including attending shows, watching movies & TV, writing blog posts, etc., etc.)

With Coben and Child's latest works, as with many others--not only by them, but predominantly so--there was little I wanted to do more fervently than turn each page.

Don't Let Go is one of Harlan Coben's stand-alone novels, meaning that it doesn't center around the recurring characters of Myron Bolitar and Win Lockwood, who populate most of the writer's early novels and some newer ones such as 2016's fine Home.

Like most of Coben's books in either category, Don't Let Go is based in the writer's home state of New Jersey. And as unusual, it involves some kind of domestic mystery: a missing family member, a loved one long assumed deceased who may not be, etc.

But although this is ostensibly a book review, what the novel is about isn't as important as Coben's continued capacity to make me want to read it, as quick as possible.

Though I will say that there are some interesting twists as an adult man explores new strange new happenings regarding his long-thought-dead twin brother. And what makes Coben's writing--and Child's for that matter--so enjoyable to me is considerable glib humor and astute societal observations that accompany the action & suspense.

Some of Coben's books are obviously better than others, though I'm glad to have read them all. My memory isn't good enough to delineate many, though I know I enjoyed Tell No One, Gone for Good and Six Years more than some others.

And Don't Let Go is first-rate.

All of Lee Child's novels--he's also written some novellas and short stories, but I haven't read any of those--focus on a human superhero type character named Jack Reacher.

In a couple of movies now, Reacher has been played by Tom Cruise, but as written, the all-but-invincible character stands 6'5" and weighs 250 lbs.

And seemingly has never lost a fight, no matter how many opponents he faces simultaneously.

But as with Coben, that the Reacher books pull me in despite not much surprise in the end result is largely what attests to Child's writing quality.

Some of his recent books have seemed a tad lesser--I couldn't get through Night School on the first stab, despite getting a copy autographed by the author--but without representing anything astonishingly different, The Midnight Line is a fun read that was hard to put down.

If you're new to the Reacher series, I'd start with the early ones, especially as The Midnight Line is just out in hardcover (though I downloaded a free Kindle version via the Overdrive app and Skokie Public Library).

And if you're well-familiar, telling you the plot points of the latest book is kind of unnecessary. Basically, Reacher, who lives a nomadic existence, discovers a reason to get involved in a mystery of sorts, and follows it through while roughing up some bad people.

Again, this isn't much of a descriptive book review, but with both Coben and Child--who regularly top the best seller lists--it basically comes down to, "Is this a great one, good one, so-so one or disappointingly poor one?"

The Midnight Line is a very good one. Don't Let Go nearly great.

Both exciting to read, even for someone rarely all that excited about reading.

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