Harlan Coben, the wise-cracking mystery writer who’s every bit as funny as his characters, would rather not hear that you don’t have time to read.
"Please don’t say that!" the author joked in a recent phone interview. "I have a fourth child coming in July; I need to feed them all!"
Sure enough, just as his new thriller Tell No One is released, Coben and his wife Anne will add baby number four to their family that already includes three kids ranging in age from 2 to 7 years old. "To answer your next question: Yes, I am insane," he deadpans.
The stay-at-home dad might need to be a bit off his rocker to come up with the twists and turns that make Tell No One such a wild whodunit. The story follows pediatrician David Beck’s search for the real story behind his wife’s murder. Eight years after her death, the inner city doctor receives an anonymous e-mail sending him to an Internet street cam. As he watches people stream by on a busy street, he suddenly finds himself staring at the woman he lost all those years ago. It’s almost impossible to distill the plot into short summary, as Coben has enough surprises up his sleeve to keep you racing to the end.
"I love to lead [the reader] down one path and then rip you in the other. I want every book, especially this one, to really twist and turn," he says. "I love a book that sneaks up behind you at the end and slaps you in the back of the head, and that’s what I hope this book does."
After seven books featuring Myron Bolitar, his sports agent mystery sleuth who reigns as the king of zippy one liners, this is Coben’s first release without the alter ego. "At the end of [my] last book [Myron] kinda looked at me and I kinda looked at him, and he said, ‘You know, give me a break here pal.’ So I gave him some down time," Coben says.
It wouldn’t be a Coben book without his trademark wit, but Tell No One relies less on snappy comebacks, keeping the humor more controlled. And what ranks as his most suspenseful book yet had an unlikely origin.
"I was watching one of those typical romance movies — I won’t mention the name — where the man loses his wife, years pass, he can’t go on, but he learns to go on. I said to myself, What about the guy who can’t go on? How can I find a story where he can find redemption and solace?" Coben explains.
Learning to go on is something Coben knows a lot about. He talks candidly about the death of his parents while he was in his 20s, saying his close relationship with them has affected his writing "more than I ever anticipated."
"There are parts of Tell No One where I describe what lessons [Beck] learned from the death of his lover, and really a lot of those lessons I derived from the death of my parents," he says.
That family theme seems to find its way into all of Coben’s novels. Unlike most mystery protagonists, Myron Bolitar still loves his aging parents, and his visits with them are often a source of great comedy.
"I’m always shocked at how much people relate to the stuff that deals with family and parents," he says. "I love writing about the suburbs of America; it’s sort of a last battleground of the American dream. It’s where everyone, you and I and everyone else, fights to find some sort of happiness." He stops himself before getting too profound. "Wow, that was deep, give me a moment. (short pause) OK, I’m OK."
Coben hasn’t left the suburbs in Tell No One, but he admits he had a few anxious moments about leaving his favorite character.
"With Myron there was a comfort zone, in the sense that it was an ‘I know I can do it’ zone. Not that it was easier or harder, but I knew I could do it and that the public would accept it," he admits. "So to try something new took a bit of a nudge, but once I was there, I really found it quite freeing."
Coben felt even better after Hollywood snapped up the book in a four studio auction. In fact, he calls the whole bidding war "just four or five days of sheer bliss." With orthodontia and college to come, it’s a family man’s dream come true.