Crime fiction is saturated with the alcoholic protagonist. Be it a cop with a chip on his shoulder, or an antagonistic private investigator, pulp crime’s favourite characters tend to fight through correct procedure to get their man. This style of novel is one you save for the beach; easy to read and engage with, and easy to think about.
Caught is another beast entirely.
Harlan Coben’s 19th novel is the sort of crime fiction that strips our beach towel out from under foot, and uses our beach umbrella to bash us around the head. The protagonist changes from innocent victim to villain and back again without a second thought, creating a plot that had me tying knots with my brain within the first few chapters. The majority of the characters are fallible. They are placed into situations that allow us to see their faults, and their reasoning, which helps us to understand their actions.
Coben’s writing had me unsure of which characters to suspect, and which characters to trust. Caught had me asking questions and searching for answers. I was desperate to skip ahead a chapter and miss anything trivial, but Coben has approached this book like a symphony. No note is unimportant, and every word contributes to the grand plan. Each event, each feeling, each hidden past, epiphany and hint had me reading slower. Each character, faults or no, became someone who could be responsible. I couldn’t skip a single clue, and this book had me searching for them. I loved reading this book.
The main protagonist, investigative reporter Wendy Tynes, uses her program ‘Caught in the act’ to entrap and apprehend a well loved social worker, Dan Mercer, for being a sexual predator. In court, Dan proclaims his innocence and is released. However, the media coverage of his trial and capture creates a stigma that follows Dan everywhere he goes, and when he eventually confronts Wendy, he is murdered in front of her.
Wendy decides to dig a little further into Dan’s death, and soon she begins to question everything she thought she knew about the case. Did she cause the death of an innocent man? Was she to blame, or was she manipulated? Was Dan Mercer really as innocent as he said he was? Did she ruin the man’s life unjustly by televising the event of his capture, and why does she feel a sinking sense of unease in the whole debacle? In conjunction with this set of events, the community is up in arms at the mysterious disappearance of Haley McWaid, a smiling, bubbly, model seventeen year old from a loving suburban family.
Caught is dripping with social commentary. Coben has created a story that plays on the fear felt by the suburban American and the portrayal of the American dream. He explores how dysfunctional we are behind the smiling, apparently ‘normal’ lives, which we choose to show to others. The book had me questioning my own answers to moral and ethical questions on truth and justice, mob mentality, and forgiveness. It had me questioning what my façade is, and who I would be if it were stripped away. What would my actions really make me?
Coben uses the Internet as a major, shadowy player in the unveiling of the plot. He emphasizes the amount of damage that can be done with a few rogue blogs and resulting media perception. He makes evident what we know is true, but rarely acknowledge. The Internet can be ruthless and dangerous, and with global media now commonplace, wrecking a life is easier than ever before.
I hope that I saw what Coben was saying with this novel, but occasionally I felt that it’s length let the story down. The character backgrounds, social commentary, and intense plot lines made the reading a little crowded. It was not dissimilar to having too many cocktail options on the menu at a beach bar. I felt a little overwhelmed with choice. Occasionally I did have to back-track – especially at the start of the novel – to stop my brain feeling like I’d just sucked down a frappé too fast.
The main character, Wendy, also annoyed me a little. At the start, she seemed sanctimonious and a little morally unjustified. However, I have to admit as the story progressed, it became easier to relate to her, and by the time I put the book down, the epiphanies that Wendy shared with me made me grateful for pursuing the story regardless of my first impressions.
Caught is an intriguing, unpredictable, emotional roller-coaster No matter whom you side with at the beginning of the book, you will still end up surprised, and you might even come away with an epiphany or two of your own. I would not hesitate now, to walk into my local book store and buy everything Harlan Coben has ever written. Give his books a go, they may not be as cosy as your regular beach read, but you wont leave the sand once you start them.
Author: Harlan Coben
Publisher: Orion Fiction