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Book Review: Live Wire

Posted by on Jul 12th, 2011 and filed under Latest. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

For those unfamiliar with his works, Harlan Coben is basically a touchy-feely Lee Childs. Harlan’s recurring hero – the goofily-monikered Myron Bolitar, making his tenth appearance in Live Wire - shares some DNA with Childs’ Jack Reacher (whose last adventure - Worth Dying For - I reviewed here.) Both men are fundamentally decent ex-government heavies with hearts of gold who could put you in hospital faster than you could pull a Glock, and neither would turn a blind eye to injustice or even dream of flipping the off switch once they’d started the steamroller of death trundling toward the truth.

Reacher & Bolitar both finish what they start; the difference is that the stakes - and the collateral damage – are always higher with Myron, because he actually has a life.

Reacher is a pragmatic loner with no real human connections – he drifts from town to town cleaning up local hoodlums & psychos and, really, if he gets hurt, he alone gets hurt. Once healed he just moves on to the next self-contained adventure. Myron, however, is a gooey sentimentalist with abysmal roots. He has a business (representing sports stars & entertainment types,) an entourage of long established massively loved buddies, and a creaky mum & dad he still dotes on. He doesn’t fall in love very easily but when he does he falls very hard very fast, regardless of how much trouble his beloved may be. He’s a softie, in short, with some hardcore support in the form of Windsor Horne Lockwood III – or ‘Win’ – the nihilistic Ivy League ass-kicker to Myron’s blue collar bleeding heart gumshoe.

Initially Harlan Coben wrote seven Bolitar books back-to-back in six years, of which the best – Deal Breaker and Drop Shot - mixed perfectly convoluted plotting with explosive personal revelations that spun Myron from rookie sports rep to established fixer for the most catastrophic aspects of his clients’ private lives - lives that often meshed with his own in disturbing ways, turning his past as a potential sporting legend sidelined by injury into a bitter maze of recrimination and self-doubt, which in turn left him open to love’s sucker punch time after time.

Coben then retired Myron for six whole years, but when he returned, in 2006, it was as if his creator didn’t quite know what to do with him. Promise Me gifted Myron a surrogate family with a 9/11 widow that was doomed from the first chapter, making it no surprise that the following Long Lost found Myron alone again and back in the thrall of an old squeeze. Shame, then, that Coben seemed to have penned it in the wake of a 24-hour Taken marathon, transforming Myron into a piss-thin photocopy of Liam Neeson cracking heads round Paris in pursuit of the cult baby-snatching nuts who robbed his girl of her greatest happiness.

Live Wire, by comparison, is a return to old school Bolitar form. All the classic elements are in place – the self-effacing humour, the sharp-shooting sidekick, the oddball wrestling connections, the soul-grabbing power of family life for victims & protagonists alike – and the plot is suitably loaded with potential tragedy. Pregnant Tennis ace Suzze T asks Myron to discover who left a Facebook comment doubting the paternity of her baby, after the daddy, rock star Lex, goes walkabout as a result. Unfortunately, he’s also a client of Myron’s, and so our duty-bound hero throws himself too whole-heartedly into a twisting investigation that re-opens too many old wounds with fatal consequences, forcing him to face up to the unfixable faults of his past after uncovering a druggie sister-in-law who might just lead Myron back to his long-estranged kid brother via a nephew he never knew he had.

Once again, just like the old days, Coben sets up the narrative charges and let’s Myron touch them off, one-by-one, till his whole life seems to explode. It’s compulsive reading in a way Long Lost never was, but in the end Myron’s life is reduced to such a shell that I had no idea where the character could go from here.

Luckily, a clue comes in an end-of-book preview chapter of Shelter, Coben’s first ‘young adult’ novel featuring Myron’s nephew Mickey. It’s going to be a new series, and Myron Bolitar is going to become a sidekick.

Maybe that’s all Coben feels he can give him at this point, and maybe that’s how his individual story should end - with Myron living a melancholy compromise apparently pre-ordained. But I still feel a nagging sadness that Myron Bolitar never realised his personal dreams; that he never found that final home for his huge heart. In that sense, perhaps more than almost any other book I’ve read, Live Wire is the definitive ‘fine but ultimately unsatisfying’ thriller.

Read, but don’t forget. Somewhere, Myron’s still out there.

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