Books of 2015, #27: Deal Breaker, by Harlen Coben

(Yes, we’re going backward.)

No. Just no. Longtime readers know I have an affection for series detective works (Jack Reacher, Spenser), so occasionally I audition a new line given that Robert Parker is dead and I read way faster than Lee Child can write.

Deal Breaker was not a successful audition.

What a disappointing mishmash! We grabbed this as an (unabridged) audiobook from the library for our Thanksgiving drive, and holy crap it’s a mess. The plot’s all over the place, and the protagonist — with the hilariously unlikely name Myron Bolitar — is completely Mary-Sue territory. He’s a former Duke basketball star! Who won the NCAA! Twice in four years! And was drafted by the Celtics, only to suffer a career-ending injury in a preseason game!

So he became an FBI agent — during which time he apparently did Big Important things that were Off The Record and SEKRIT — and a lawyer! And a sports agent (because obviously)! And a firetruck! And a millionaire! And a lion tamer!

Ok, I made up those last three, but the rest are true. Really.


Oh, it gets better: his best pal is a seemingly milquetoast old-money finance geek (“Windsor Horne Lockwood III,” we are told, with no hint of irony) who is apparently also a former sekrit agent man, only despite being of utterly average build it’s the little guy who’s the scary unbeatable badass and not the six-foot-four former professional athlete. Predictably, too, Lockwood has a questionable moral compass kept in check by his complete loyalty to Bolitar.

It’s also clear that Coben really, really loves Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. Bolitar says things constantly that I’m sure Coben thinks of as clever-like-Spenser (including literary quotes, which is just a bridge too far), but it invariably comes off as badly-executed mimicry. The Spenser analogs keep coming, too: obviously Lockwood is meant to be an adaptation of Spenser’s morally ambiguous pal Hawk, and just as obviously Bolitar’s unfeasibly attractive paramour is patterned on Spenser’s lover Susan.

I get that, if you’re working in detective fiction, it’s gonna be hard to get out from under Parker’s shadow. But it’s totally doable; here, it seems like Coben isn’t even trying (or, worse, it’s a deliberate attempt to capture some of the same readers — not for nothing, I expect, are Bolitar’s reactions to things around sex and women something more suited to someone decades older than Coben himself).

The whole thing is weak sauce, and best avoided. OTOH, it was free (yay libraries!) and helped pass time on I-10, so in that context it wasn’t completely without merit — but those points are kinda like saying a wine “pours well.”

3 thoughts on “Books of 2015, #27: Deal Breaker, by Harlen Coben

  1. This series is actually fairly old, and Coben is (from what Sally and other thriller readers at the store say) better when he works on stand-alones. If you want a good detective series, well, it’s hard to go wrong with Michael Connelly and his obsessed detective Harry Bosch (first book is The Black Echo), and he’s got a lot of them, with some other characters that he uses from time to time (the best being “Lincoln Lawyer” Mickey Haller). Also, the Patrick and Angie series from Dennis Lehane–first is A Drink Before the War. They’re two will-they-or-won’t-they PDs from Boston who have a very interesting business associate named Bubba. Their last one, Moonlight Mile, is not so good, but all the rest are (and it’s really hard to go wrong with Lehane in general). You may well have heard of and/or read both of these authors. Sally says if you’re okay with other countries/times, she can recommend a lot more (like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series–yes, it’s an unfortunate name, but only in English). Oh, and she says to give CJ Box a try. Those are kinda western-ish–Open Season is the first one. Randy Wayne White is also worth a look.

  2. Tom: See Frazer’s comment.

    Frazer: Yeah, we knew it was old (1995!) but wanted to start with the first one in case it didn’t suck.

    Erin — whom you may or may not recall used to work in a mystery book shop — doesn’t remember Connelly fondly, but suggested I give him a try a while ago. She’s kinda shocked Bosch now has a TV show, given how dark his material tends to be, but that doesn’t bother me as much as it does her. Plus, I actually like The Lincoln Lawyer.

    I’ve read the Lehane. Not bad, but not exemplary either. I like the Kenzie/Gennaro books okay (and Bubba is indeed interesting), but I hated the one singleton I read (Shutter Island, whose twist you see coming MILES AND MILES AWAY). That I also hated the film of Mystic River is hard to factor in here, since so much of it seemed like basic big-cast Hollywood bullshit (including really laughable overacting from Penn, which was of course rewarded with an Oscar).

    OTOH, he wrote for The Wire. Have you seen The Drop?

    I hear good things about Nesbo. Box is a new name, as is RWW. All noted. Have also sampled the Longmire series after checking out the first episode of Netfilix’ adaptation — it’s not bad, either, but then again I’m only one book in.