Friday, October 22, 2010

Play Dead - Harlan Coben

Play Dead
Harlan Coben


The first thing to know about this book is that it’s the author’s very first book. This is the first time it’s been published, and to his everlasting credit, the author declined to rewrite it and issue it as something ‘new.’ He tells us this on the very first page. It’s a kind of a time trip back to 1989, when cell phones were futuristic devices and coming up with phone or hotel records involved looking through a stack of papers. This, children, was a time before the entire world was computerized.

It’s clear that this is a first novel because the main character, Laura Ayars, is perfect in practically every way. She’s gorgeous; the world’s foremost supermodel until she retired at age 23. She’s smart; after retiring from the modeling biz, she started up a multi-million dollar designer clothing business. And she’s unbelievably kind and brave; coming to her sister’s rescue when she needs it desperately. The main character, David Baskin, is also just about perfect. He’s handsome, a pro basketball player who loves the game, wealthy, intelligent, and does charity work with handicapped kids. The point is, there is nothing at all relatable about these people. It helps to remember that this novel was written during the “Dynasty” and “Dallas” period.

The book begins with Laura and David on their honeymoon in Australia, after they eloped. It’s all picture-perfect for about the first chapter. Then Laura goes to a business meeting and David goes swimming and never returns. Laura is left to deal with David’s tragic death. She can’t quite believe that someone who was such a strong swimmer would drown, but she’s told about the dangerous currents off the coast, and begins to accept it.

Once she returns home to Boston, where they lived and David played for the Celtics, there’s the funeral, a memorial, a statue unveiling (David was a beloved star player) and various other events to occupy her time, if not her mind. At the will reading, Laura finds that one of David’s smaller accounts (roughly half a million dollars) is missing. The money was transferred to Switzerland, and that’s all anyone can tell her. From there, she begins to doubt everything about David’s disappearance and determines to find out what really happened.

For longtime readers of thrillers, the outcome is fairly obvious from the set-up. We read about “the patient” having plastic surgery. Then someone comes out of nowhere to try out for the Celtics. It’s not hard to figure out at all. There’s a string of murders going on in Laura’s circle, and despite some heavy-handed misdirection by the (first time, remember) author, the identity of the killer is pretty easy to suss out, too. There’s a lot of filler and prose that verges on the purple. It’s pretty much what you’d expect for a first novel. It’s not great, but it’s probably a lot better than most. For fans of Harlan Coben (LONG LOST) it’s interesting to see how he got started, and how much he’s honed his craft over the years.

Rating: 6
October 2010
ISBN# 978-0-451-23174-1 (paperback)


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