Review: Caught by Harlan Coben

Although I have finished the 2010 audio book challenge I still enjoy walking and listening.

Caught opens with the life of Dan Mercer, social worker and all around good-guy, falling apart. Feeling what turns out to be a justified sense of unease Dan makes his way to an address at which one of the troubled children he counsels is waiting in apparent distress. When he gets there he is instead ambushed by a TV reporter who accuses him of being a paedophile who had gone to the house with the hope of having sex with an underage girl. Ugliness ensues. Concurrently in the same town the McWaid family are dealing with the disappearance of their teenage daughter Hayley. The seemingly happy young girl has been missing for three months and her family are barely coping with the uncertainty her disappearance has caused.

Much of this story is told from the perspective of Wendy Tynes, the news reporter who ambushed Dan Mercer. I found her sanctimonious, hypocritical and obtuse. Did I mention sanctimonious? It was this holier-than-thou aspect of her personality that increasingly grated on my nerves as the book progressed. I should however separate the fact I did not like Wendy from the fact she is a well drawn, complex character. After all it is realistic that I wanted to run over her driving an SUV as I fantasize about doing that to people (and television reporters) in the real world too.

Despite my homicidal feelings for Wendy the characters were the best thing about this book. There were several really credible and quite beautiful depictions of ordinary people in horrible situations. The parents and siblings of Hayley McWaid were all heart-wrenchingly believable. As were the Fathers’ Club: a group of middle-aged men including one of Dan Mercer’s old college roommates who Wendy tracks down with the aim of discovering more about Dan’s past. All of the men had become unemployed thanks to the economic downturn and their various ways of coping with being men unable to provide for their families in a world they believe only values them by their ability to do so was touchingly portrayed. I even managed to find Wendy’s teenage son and father-in-law quite endearing despite their association with the self-righteous Ms Tynes.

Parts of the story were solidly plotted and more akin to traditional crime fiction than a thriller as layers of people’s pasts were unpicked to provide understanding and motivation for various happenings. For me though these portions were overshadowed by some clumsiness. Firstly I began to wonder if Coben had been paid by the Temperance Society (or some shady government body) to wedge the ‘alcohol is bad’ theme in wherever he could (and sometimes where he couldn’t). This was monotonous and a pretty big give away to one of the two major plot threads which meant I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop despite the several apparent endings to that storyline. The other jarring note for me was the inclusion of the use of social media as a plot device. At times this was well integrated but at others it felt overly awkward. I can’t say more without giving away spoilers but, for example, I simply did not believe the actions taken by Wendy’s employers to information they discovered via the blogosphere.

I acknowledge this as a character defect of my own but when I love a particular character I can forgive minor flaws in a book and, conversely, when I develop a slow-burning hatred for someone my brain turns each tiny imperfection of the book into a major distraction. This is, I think, partly to blame for my reaction to Caught but I’ve never claimed to be entirely objective here. If you’d like another perspective on the novel do read the review at Petrona which is untainted by a reviewer’s rampant hatred for the encapsulation of everything that is wrong with the world in the form of Wendy Tynes (though being fair to myself I think I would have found the plot clumsy anyway). This is only the second Harlan Coben book I’ve read and as I really enjoyed the other one I’ll happily give the man another go and I’ll look for more books narrated by Christopher Evan Welch who was excellent.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 2.5/5

Narrator Christopher Evan Welch; Publisher Whole Story Audio Books [2010]; Length 11 hours 3 minutes

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Caught has also been reviewed at Book Journey (which reviews a different narrator’s version of the book), Me, My Book & the Couch (where Shon highly recommends the book) and Petrona (where the ever-reliable Maxine is impressed with the novel too so don’t take my word for it)

I read another of Coben’s standalones, Tell No One, earlier this year and enjoyed it more than this one.

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8 Responses to Review: Caught by Harlan Coben

  1. jiescribano says:

    Bernadette it is always interesting to read different opinions and tastes.

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  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this fine review. The only thing I’m not sure of is, what’s your opinion of Wendy Tynes in this novel? ; ). Seriously, though, I know what you mean about being able to forgive a less-than-perfect element or two in a book if one likes a character, but not otherwise. I feel the same way, actually. I’ve consigned more than one book to the DNF pile because of a character I didn’t like…

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  3. LOL Margot, next time I’ll say what I really think

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  4. Maxine says:

    Yes, Bernadette, you are so shy it is hard to work out what you mean, sometimes 😉

    You know, in general I am not so keen on “thrillers” compared with crime fiction. Although I only read this book recently and really loved it, I can barely remember Wendy only a few weeks later, and have no clue about the AA aspects! Whereas a good crime novel keeps me thinking for a while. I think Caught is quite superficial but a good example of the best of the thriller genre, compared with its other practitioners.

    I’ve just not read a book (threw it across the room at p 100) despite two fantastic reviews at blogs I like. I even asked the publisher for a copy as a result of those 2 reviews and as I hated the book (hated is putting it mildly) I am in a dilemma – to review (the first 100 pages) or not? It would be fun to do so in one sense, but why rip to shreds someone’s loving attempts to copy and pastiche James Patterson, Karin Slaughter and others? I dunno – each to her own I guess. Sorry if this is a bit of a non-sequitur.

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  5. Craig says:

    Good review Bernadette. I liked the book a bit more than you (my reaction was more akin to Maxine’s), although I did struggle a little with the Wendy character. I also felt at times that Coben was trying to get too many issues in there (underage drinking, paedophilia/underage sex, the past, social networking, impact of the media, etc), but overall I thought he (just) pulled it off. And sadly, the media’s reaction to the blogosphere stuff isn’t that unbelievable. It’s getting much more and more like that – especially in the US.

    You can read my review for Scoop Review of Books here: http://books.scoop.co.nz/2010/05/04/thrilling-international-crime/

    And just so anyone doesn’t think I’m just a bit soft, read further down for what I thought of Linda Fairstein’s latest.

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  6. @Maxine I’m VERY curious which book you have thrown across the room

    @Craig my current job involves a huge amount of HR management and sacking someone without proper evidence (and a couple of emails and blog pages wouldn’t constitute proper evidence) is the fastest way to being sued for unlawful dismissal – that’s the aspect that I just didn’t believe. I know I shouldn’t put my real world hat on when I read fiction but that’s what tends to happen when I’m not terribly happy with the rest of it.

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  7. kathy durkin says:

    I threw “Payton Place” across the room when I was 15. My dad told me not to read it, the only time that nonstop reader told me not to read something, and of course, I had to read it the next day. I thought it trash and threw it across the room, of course, not telling him he was right. I’ve taken books back to the library and put them out in the hallway of my building.
    I like Caught as a casual, quick read, pleasant, non-taxing, non-gratuitously violent book for a Sunday afternoon, with jazz on, ice coffee and a muffin, with sun coming in…just nice.
    I also caught plot lines I was figuring out ahead of time and didn’t believe Wendy’s employees going after her on the basis of internet so-called information. That was sleazy! Not fair.
    All in all, okay, lent it to a friend; she liked it.
    The trick to finding thrillers without gratuitous violence and sexism is not easy. I’m doing okay so far but am fuzzy. Maybe we should all have a special list for these thrillers we can print out and carry to bookstores and libraries.

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  8. kathy durkin says:

    I forgot to say, get the French movie of “Tell No One,” so much better than the book and it explains things my friends and I could not figure out with the book.

    There are others who are good, too. If I had to go on a beach vacation, I’d grab Connelly, Finder, Grisham and Coben to relax and maybe Ellison (Hidden Man) and some women which I can’t think of now, to my chagrin.

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