Underscoring a soft-focus suburbia, the picket fence on the cover of Harlan Coben’s latest “domestic thriller” captures the disquiet within: The perfect row of white-washed posts is spoiled by one splintered, askew slat. How fragile are the guards we put up to protect ourselves from hard-edged reality?
Coben tackles that question from the viewpoints of three people: a restless suburban mom, a down-and-out photographer, and a dogged detective. Each one is affected by one night in Atlantic City, when strip-club customer Stewart Green was savagely killed (or faked it to disappear from his middle-class comfort). Each confronts the choices made when another man goes missing on the same date 17 years later, and their paths cross again.
At stake for Megan (nee Maygin, aka Cassie) Pierce is the soccer-mom “normality” she engineered after running away from her seedy (to others), exciting (to her) past. Her husband, Dave, and two kids, 11 and 15, seem only to hover in the background, yet they tether Megan to her new life and keep her from giving in to her “what ifs,” until her restlessness draws her back to the scene of the crime just once.
Ray Levine, on the other hand, relives that night every day and doesn’t seem to have much left to lose. A once-promising photojournalist, he has settled for playing a paparazzo at bar mitzvahs and for celeb wannabes. In the meantime, Broome, the detective still trying to find closure for Green’s grieving spouse, hasn’t let the case go or moved on in his own life.
With Stay Close, Coben continues his exploration into the nightmares that lurk beneath the so-called American Dream, delivered with his trademark Garden State, snark and another memorable Eric Wu–like villain (the North Korean hit man from Coben’s Tell No One and Just One Look)—or rather two, who take the picture-perfect-façade metaphor to a new sadistic level. Though not as twisty as Coben’s other standalones, this fiction offers more reality and humanity than any episode of Jersey Shore.