Forgiveness: A review of Caught by Harlan Coben


What if the drunk driver who killed your spouse in a horrible accident persisted in sending you letters asking for forgiveness, could you forgive her? That’s a question that TV news corespondent, Wendy Tynes, struggles with in Harlan Coben’s new thriller, Caught. In fact, Forgiveness, in its purest form seems to be the crux of this absorbing mystery. In a scene near the beginning of the novel, after receiving many apologetic letters from her husband’s killer -- Ariana Nasbro, now an alcoholic twelve stepper who has recently been released from prison – Wendy confronts her at a half-way house about an hour from her home in Northern New Jersey:
“So I’m here to tell you: Don’t send me your self involved AA nonsense. I don’t care. I don’t want to forgive you so you can heal or recover or whatever the hell you call it….”

Wendy hosts a newsmagazine style show called Caught in the Act, which exposes child sexual predators, live and in color, usually at a sting house where the internet chat room lurkers are lured. Her latest exposé ensnares Dan Mercer, a Big Brother type volunteer who coaches and councils troubled inner-city kids. Dan, a divorced Princeton grad, who was a foster child himself, is subsequently arrested and finds his life in ruins. The story jumps three months. Haley McWaid, a teenager and classmate of Wendy’s son Charlie, has been missing since around the time of Mercer’s arrest. The intermingling of these two unfortunate incidents is what drives the intricate plot of Coben’s latest novel.

Harlan Coben is basically a dual mode author. Firstly, he writes a series of private eye thrillers featuring Myron Bolitar, a sort of soft-boiled sports agent who finds himself enmeshed in all sorts of intrigue. And secondly, he writes the more socially conscious mysteries like Caught, which usually take place near his real life home of Ridgewood, New Jersey, a somewhat peaceful, wealthy suburban town, about an hour northwest of NYC. For the most part these New Jersey books are separate entities, but occasionally Coben will reintroduce his more dynamic characters like: Frank Tremont, a main character from his last NJ thriller, Hold Tight, and a minor player in Caught; Windsor Horne Lockwood III, a preppy business and computer whiz who is a childhood friend of Myron Bolitar as well as casual sex interest for reporter Tynes; and Hester Crimstein, a no-nonsense, risible, and caustic New York lawyer, one of my favorite recurring Coben characters.

In Caught, Coben continues to engage his readers in thoughtful social commentary ripped from the morning headlines. The issue this time becomes modern day smear tactics i.e.; viral blogs, viral video, etc… How easy it is in the current technological climate, with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube, to spread the word, albeit slanderous, about anyone or anything. There are also subtexts that runs throughout many of the author’s thrillers. In this book, one of the questions he tackles asks: how much trust do we give our kids and to what length are we willing to go to protect them? Wendy ponders these hypotheticals as she attends the regular meeting of Kasselton High School’s Project Graduation, a gathering of parents scheming to make their kid’s graduation experience as enjoyable and safe as possible. She peruses the various booths set up along the hallway: Not In Our House, a campaign against parents hosting underage drinking parties; another booth urged parents to post signs which proclaimed DRIVE SLOWLY WE ♥ OUR CHILDREN (as if you don't); Yet another kiosk handed out drinking pledge contracts, coaxing teens to swear an oath to never drink and drive. As she takes her seat, one of the fathers who sits next to her, gestures to the booths.

“‘Safety Overkill’ he said. ‘We’re so overprotective don’t you think?’
Wendy said nothing…”
But later she wonders,
 "...if perhaps Ariana Nasbro's parents should have attended one of the over-the-top orientations, if maybe all this apparent safety overkill would indeed save a life during the next few weeks, so that some other family wouldn't have to deal with what she and Charlie had."

The reader gets the feeling that Coben is frequently weaving his spin into the text, sometimes in a smart-alecky way, but always leaving room for the prevailing ethos. Throughout the book, Coben touches on everything from vigilantism to pseudo Rap music, adding humor in splotches here and there. All of it mixed with a suspenseful plot add up to a satisfying reading experience. Though for me, the essence of this novel returns to the source of Wendy’s psychic pain; it’s all about our capacity to forgive.

~Book Jones~   3.5 Stars