Flimsy plotting, thin characters, hoary clichés, grade-school prose: a “by the numbers” thriller.

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SLEEPING BEAUTY

A pulse-lowering thriller about writers who write about what they know.

The prolific Margolin (Ties That Bind, 2003, etc.) devotes his latest to a subject he knows well: author tours. Writer Miles van Meter is out promoting Sleeping Beauty, his true-crime bestseller about convicted serial killer Joshua Maxfield. According to van Meter’s account, Maxfield broke into the Portland, Oregon, home of Norman Spencer, murdering Spencer, then raping and murdering Tanya Jones, a high-school student spending the night with Spencer’s daughter Ashley, who escapes harm. Also spared is Ashley’s mother, Terri, away on assignment as a news reporter. To rebuild Ashley’s life, Terri suggests that the girl accept a soccer scholarship that Oregon Academy has offered. Terri also signs up at the Academy for the creative writing workshop taught by Joshua Maxfield. Maxfield alarms Terri when he reads to the class a story of murder that parallels the crime committed in her home. Certain that Maxfield wrote the piece from personal experience, Terri alerts Academy dean Casey van Meter (Miles’s sister). Jogging across campus one night, Ashley hears two screams. Drawing up to a shed, she discovers Maxfield holding a bloody knife and standing over the body of her mother. A comatose Casey lies nearby. Maxfield escapes, is caught, then escapes again just as he faces trial. Fearing that Maxwell will track her, Ashley flees to Europe but is persuaded to return when a lawyer reveals that Casey, not Terri, was Ashley’s mother. Ashley, the lawyer implores, must come home to claim her due as Casey’s daughter. She returns; Casey awakens from a five-year coma; and Maxfield, caught, tried, and convicted, becomes the subject of Sleeping Beauty. But Ashley thinks something about the case is wrong, and most readers will see early on that she’s right.

Flimsy plotting, thin characters, hoary clichés, grade-school prose: a “by the numbers” thriller.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-008326-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2004

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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