Review: “Home” by Harlan Coben

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Title: “Home” (Myron Bolitar #11)
Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Thriller, mystery, suspense
Publication Date: Sept. 20, 2016 (Dutton)

My Rating: ★★★★★

“Der mentsh trakht un got lakht. Translation: Man plans and God laughs.” — Myron Bolitar

Harlan Coben is a genius. He’s brilliant. I’m left in awe every time I read one of his (dozens of) masterpieces — the sharpness! His books are smart, witty, twisty as an Alpine road. They’re fast-paced and near impossible to set down, but too good to speed through because you want to reread and savor those clever sentences.

All this to say, I loved “Home,” and Harlan is all but unrivaled in Thriller World. Probably a surprise after this praise party, but I haven’t read the other 10 books in the Myron Bolitar series, so I put off reading this one until recently. I was worried it wouldn’t work as a stand-alone and I wouldn’t get some of the references, but I never felt confused or behind. I imagine it’s an even greater experience when you already know Myron, Win, Esperanza, Big Cyndi, Mickey and the rest of the crew, but if you’re new to the series, no harm picking this one up.

Which brings us to the plot. A decade ago, Win’s 6-year-old nephew, Rhys, and his buddy Patrick were kidnapped; a ransom was demanded from the very wealthy families, but then the kidnappers went silent, and there’s been no word or sign of the two since. Until now, when Win gets an anonymous email with a tip that one of the boys was spotted under a shady Kings Cross, London, underpass – which leads to my first introduction to Win’s ways (…there are a few less bad guys in the world once Win’s visited the spot). He summons Myron to London, and after a few gritty scenes, they locate who they believe to be Patrick, now a teenage boy. No Rhys — so what can Patrick tell them about his still-missing friend? Where have they been the last 10 years, and who took them? And are they even dealing with the real-deal Patrick? Win and Myron are relentless in their pursuit to uncover what really happened, no matter who or what they tear apart in the process.

“Myron didn’t know what he hoped to find here, but stumbling around blind was a big part of his so-called investigations. You don’t so much painstakingly search for the needle in the haystack as haphazardly leap into various haystacks, barefoot and naked, and then flail wildly and hope that hey, ouch, there’s a needle.”

It’s perhaps ironic, at least unexpected, that a book as dark as this — ripe with murder and violence — is funny, too. Imagine Myron and Win in a high-stakes, high-tension meeting with the flamboyant villain Fat Gandhi, who claims to have been holding the boys. “May I call you Myron?” he asks. “Sure. Should I call you Fat?” Later: “Fat Gandhi was resplendent in what looked to be a yellow zoot suit. ‘The cash is in that bag?’ ‘It isn’t in my underwear,’ Myron said.”

And: “When I wink at him, his eyebrows jump high. ‘We should cut him up,’ Camouflage One says. ‘Cut him into little pieces.’ I feign being startled and turn toward him. ‘Oh my, I didn’t see you there.’ ‘What?’ ‘In those camouflage pants. You really blend in. By the way, they are very fetching on you.’ ‘Are you some kind of wiseguy?’ ‘I’m many kinds of wiseguy.’ All the smiles, including mine, grow.”

In September last year, I saw Harlan speak at the National Book Festival here in Washington, D.C. Right off the bat, I was surprised at how lumbering tall and LOL funny he is. I swear, this guy could do comedy. He had breakfast with Stephen King the morning of the talk, and said they’re both still insecure. Each time he starts a new book, he says, he panics: “Oh my god, I’ve lost it.” He writes every word as though he has a knife against his throat, and if it’s not the absolute best he can possibly write, well, knives against the throat don’t end well. And even when he’s reading, he feels guilty he’s not writing. If you don’t feel like that and you fancy yourself a writer, he says, you’re probably not one.

Harlan is coming off a banner year — he released both “Fool Me Once” (also 5 stars) and “Home” in 2016. No word on what’s next, but in the meantime, I’m here reading 2013’s “Six Years.” Good thing there’s a big, satisfying backlog to get through until Harlan blesses us with something new.

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