With Hold Tight, Coben revisits the little suburban New Jersey area he opened up in The Woods, even showing us some of the same people, although this time in more minor roles. In The Woods, Coben wove together so many different threads that it was kind of amazing you didn't realize how ridiculous they all were until after you finished the book, a testament to his storytelling skill. Unfortunately for Hold Tight, now you know where to look. And because of the large cast of characters, the depth Coben was able to give to his protagonists in the earlier book is mostly absent here -- they're all interchangeable suburbanite forty-somethings who confusingly threaten to turn into each other while we're watching them. In order to give them any dimension at all within the confines of his story, Coben has to commit the novelist's cardinal sin and tell us about the people instead of showing us.
Coben, himself a forty-something suburbanite with kids, starts with parents trying to learn why their son is moody and withdrawn and installing some spyware on his computer. Other families -- some intact, some not -- drift in and out of the story, each of them having their own Special Situation and Deep Dark Secret that's known only to them, lurking behind the Perfect Suburban Facade. Think Raymond Chandler meets Desperate Housewives, only ignore the fact that Desperate Housewives would make Chandler throw up. Although he might think about dallying for awhile with Dana Delany.
Then the son disappears, and the plot begins. The only problem is that, as we read along, we get the feeling that we're further ahead than the characters are. At least once I said, "Hey, Harlan, isn't it time for you to pay off on that foreshadowing you did about a hundred pages ago," and lo and behold, said foreshadowing paid off right about then.
The other downer is Coben's steps into another of the suspense novel's most tired and seamy cliches, the killer's conversations with his tearful victims as he prepares to torture and murder them. He rarely does this sort of thing, for good reason, because it's generally a sign of the weakest of thrillers, novels about which airport bookstores say, "Um, no. We have standards."
So although I like Coben, and although a good 90 percent of the stuff that trees die for is worse than this decidedly low point of his catalog, I will be happy to set my copy of Hold Tight free to roam in our little town's public library.