A perennial scene-stealer in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series finally stars in a book of his very own.
There’s a line in Harlan Coben’s new novel, Win, that’s sure to evoke a frisson of anticipatory delight in the hearts of thriller readers everywhere: “We always knew this day would come.”
That sentence’s stark simplicity and resigned tone perfectly convey a universal truth at the heart of Coben’s body of work, which consists of 33 novels and counting. The author says it best during a call to his New Jersey home: “The past is never quite buried. You may try to bury it, you may throw a lot of dirt over it . . . but it will claw its way back out.”
And claw it does, whether in Coben’s 18 standalone novels, his YA trilogy or the Myron Bolitar series, in which Win—short for Windsor Horne Lockwood III—has served as a mysterious, witty, violence-prone sidekick to the affable Myron, a sports agent with a sideline in off-the-books criminal investigation, since the 1990s.
Coben has fans worldwide: He’s got 75 million books in print in 45 languages, numerous Netflix series, a critically acclaimed French film adaptation of his 2001 book, Tell No One, and still more projects in the works (including a sequel to 2020’s The Boy From the Woods). He’s also won the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award.
Through it all, there was one thing he didn’t want to do: write a book about Win. “People have been asking me about it for a long time, but I’ve been resisting it,” he says. “I usually come up with an idea and then ask myself who will tell the story.” Often the answer was Myron or a range of other characters. And then: “I had an idea involving an art heist and a hermit in a fancy Upper West Side apartment, and I thought, ‘That’s Win’s world. I wonder if he could tell the story.’”
"Sometimes nice guys are boring to hang out with. Win’s never boring."
In the novel, a Vermeer painting, stolen from Win’s family decades earlier, has been found at the homicide scene of a man Win had never met, along with a suitcase monogrammed with Win’s initials. The victim, a wealthy hoarder, seems to be connected to the years-ago kidnapping of Win’s cousin Patricia, which itself is tied to domestic terrorists who are still on the run after committing a deadly crime in the 1970s. And the police and FBI? They’re looking askance at Win, to say the least.
Although it feels right that Win’s day has come, writing his star turn was not without its challenges for Coben. For one thing, “My leads, like Myron Bolitar, David Beck in Tell No One or Grace Lawson in Just One Look, are usually fairly nice people. Win is a bit darker. He’s more of an antihero.”
It’s true: Win is exceptionally handsome and exceedingly wealthy, with an insouciant attitude toward laws, feelings, authority—almost anything or anyone, really—that isn’t a priority for him. While he’s devoted to his longtime friend Myron and feels affection for his own father, Win is also quite comfortable with vigilantism, consequences be damned. “I confess I’m not good about considering long-term repercussions,” Win wryly confides.
What Win is good at is understanding his own tremendous advantages. “He would be insufferable if he didn’t get that,” says Coben. “And that’s also sort of fun for me, because a lot of people in that world don’t get it.”
To wit, while Win is on the hunt for the Vermeer painting’s thief, he muses, “There is an odd psychology amongst those who inherit great wealth, because deep down inside, they realize that they did nothing to earn it, that it really was just a matter of luck, and yet how can it be that they are not special? . . . It haunts us. It makes us compensate. It poisons.”
Notes Coben, “I expect some people will not like Win, but they’ll find him compelling. That’s all that matters to me.” When asked if he likes Win, Coben pauses for a second and then laughs. “Who cares? I find him great company. He’s a guy I’d love to sit with at a bar and listen to, which is always what your hero should be. . . . Sometimes nice guys are boring to hang out with. Win’s never boring.”
And neither is Win’s story. As it plumbs the character’s complicated origins, it offers insight into what’s behind his obsession with martial arts training and his transactional approach to sex. There are also urgent visits to Lockwood Manor in Pennsylvania, where his father and Patricia begrudgingly reveal some family secrets and decline to address others. Readers join Win on a circuit of his high-end haunts in New York City, too, where he has an apartment in the Dakota and used to prowl the streets on “night tours” (read: opportunities for violence).
And yes, Win includes Coben’s trademark nerve-wracking action scenes as well. Win is savvy and skilled, but there’s always the possibility that he could be outnumbered or outplanned. Coben does research the tactical nature of brawls, he explains, but “most of the time it’s just my imagination. I’ll put myself in that position . . . and figure out what is the best move. How would I get out of it? What’s a fight really like?”
He demurs, though, at the notion that readers might be, say, keeping a mental list of techniques learned from Win and his other fisticuffs-minded characters. “I don’t know how many real self-defense things you’re learning from me. I would be careful,” he says with a laugh. “I just know enough to get myself in trouble.”
“I’ve always wanted to be the guy whose book you took on vacation,” Coben says, “but you don’t want to leave your hotel room because you have to know what’s going to happen next.”
As Win races to unravel a multitude of tangled threads, past and present, Coben reveals layers of deception among family members, wary witnesses, criminals who will do anything to avoid capture and perhaps even Win’s own psyche. His attractiveness and wealth gain him leverage and access but cannot ultimately protect him from harsh truths and exceptionally hard decisions. It’s an intriguing and sometimes mind-bending exercise in “What would I do?” This, Coben says, “is the main joy of Win. You may not agree with his decisions, they may not be ethical or legal, but you get it. You see that side of it, and there’s something very appealing about his side.”
That, too, is an important element of the appeal of Win and Coben’s other work: the moral conundrums, the fights that are vicious but sometimes kinda fun, the shocking twists and surprising dispatches from long ago. “I’ve always wanted to be the guy whose book you took on vacation,” Coben says, “but you don’t want to leave your hotel room because you have to know what’s going to happen next.”
He doesn’t take this goal lightly, noting that it’s become something of a mission, or even a calling, for him. “I’ve been very, very lucky, and I take that very seriously. I work as hard as I’ve ever worked, if not harder, on every project I do, because if you’re going to walk into a bookstore and there’s a zillion books for you to buy and you’re choosing mine, that’s a heck of a responsibility.”