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gone for good

16 december 2014

Harlan Coben keeps writing the same novel over and over again, though you won't hear me complain about it.

Gone for Good is now 12 years old, but I caught up to it after finding a copy at (where else) a neighborhood thrift store. It's got the Jersey-noir high concept running at high speed, and somehow seems fresher, more teeming with ideas and incidents, than some of the later Coben novels. And much as I like those later ones, and much as they repeat themes sounded earlier in Gone for Good, I was majorly entertained by this 2002 potboiler. If "majorly" is a word.

Like most Coben protagonists, Will Klein is just minding his own Jersey business as the novel begins. Oh sure, his mother has just died, after a lifetime blighted by Will's brother Ken, who murdered Will's ex-girlfriend Julie and then perhaps died, perhaps fled to Sweden to beat extradition. But that's just background noise in the Coben universe. After Mom's funeral things really go sour.

Will's girlfriend disappears and is later found dead in Nebraska after being involved in a double murder in New Mexico. A mafia capo starts looking for the long-lost Ken in order to kill him, indirectly providing support for the fled-to-Sweden theory. And a mysterious, evanescent, sadistic serial killer named, imaginatively enough, "The Ghost," appears from nowhere and starts to kill people swiftly, cruelly, silently, and untraceably.

This is all great good Grand Guignol fun. And it's superbly written in terms of plot construction and the byplay of its dialogue. Aside from the basic loony nature of all its premises and actions, the story hangs together. Its only flaw on its own terms – and I don't mind to some extent "spoiling" a 12-year-old thriller – is the character of John Asselta, "The Ghost." When we first meet him, he's casually strangling the mafia capo's bodyguard. Later in the book, he cheerfully murders various stooges at the same capo's behest. After kidnapping and torturing our heroes for a while, The Ghost turns sentimental at the end of the book and sorts out all their cryptic family problems, like he's their guardian angel. This is so inconsistent that it goes beyind mere unrealism. But it's goofy enough in its own way to give the Coben œuvre a kind of brand identity based in illogic.

Coben, Harlan. Gone for Good. 2002. New York: Dell [Random House], 2003.