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no second chance

4 january 2013

Early in Harlan Coben's No Second Chance, narrator/protagonist Marc Seidman, at a New Jersey mall,

concentrated on the young mothers: the way they flipped open the back door of the minivan; the way they unfolded the baby strollers midair with a magician's flourish … Their safety, what with the five-star side-collision rating and NASA-sleek car seats, was a given. And here I sat with a bag of ransom money, hoping to get my daughter back. (57-58)
That's the essence of Harlan Coben, in two paragraphs. While everybody else leads the most "blasé" of existences (58), his characters plunge from Page One into the most insane of convoluted nightmares. Perhaps living in upper-middle-class New Jersey simply is one insane convoluted nightmare, whether one's especially aware of it or not.

The particular nightmare in No Second Chance, as you've gathered, is a kidnapping. Marc Seidman's infant daughter has vanished, leaving behind a mother shot dead and Seidman himself left for dead. In classic Jeffrey MacDonald fashion, Seidman himself becomes the prime suspect. The bag of money he's carrying in the quotation above, $2 million, promptly disappears into an van with fictitious license plates, leaving Seidman both daughterless and unjustly suspected now of worse than murdering his wife: shaking down his rich father-in-law in the process.

And then what doesn't happen in the next 380 pages or so. Ex-lovers, current lawyers, baby-farming Serbs, depraved former child stars, and a big good-ol'-boy named Verne with a large collection of large guns all make appearances, and I haven't even gotten halfway through the major characters. The plot is showy and elaborate, and intricately worked-through; at times it will seem there are loose ends to deal with, but Coben goes back and tucks them all in. He tucks them in somewhat incredibly, but hey, you're not picking up this stuff for its plausibility.

As always in Coben novels, the principals spend a lot of time driving around New Jersey. I often wonder as I drive around New Jersey how many people in the cars around me are rushing from ransom drop to ambush to gangsters' safe house. No wonder the traffic gets a bit tense at times.

Coben, Harlan. No Second Chance. 2003. New York: Signet [Penguin], 2009.