Hold Tight – Harlan Coben
For an author I thoroughly enjoy, it has been long time since I have read a Harlan Coben novel. His standalone novels, tend to be mind boggling
awesome in terms of the amount of twists and turns Coben puts the reader through. The plot starts off in one direction and then goes off in several different tangents. In short, they are generally awesome.
Tia and Mike Baye never imagined they'd become spying, overprotective parents. But their sixteen-year-old son Adam has been unusually distant and aloof lately, and after the recent suicide of his classmate, Spencer Hill, they can't help but worry. They install a spy program on Adam's computer and within days they are jolted by a strange message to their son from an unknown correspondent: "Just stay quiet and all safe." Meanwhile, browsing through an online memorial for her son, Betsy Hill is struck by one photo in particular - it appears to have been taken on the night of Spencer's death...and he wasn't alone. She thinks it's Adam Baye standing just outside the camera's range, and when Adam goes missing, it soon becomes clear that something deep and sinister has infected their community. Uncovering the secrets and lies at the heart of Spencer's death may be the only thing that can help Betsy move on - and perhaps save Adam's life.
Hold Tight is a little different from Coben’s other novels in that although the twists and turns are present, the plot focuses on a few mysteries and sticks with them. This is refreshing and you spend more time with consistent characters and they behaviours remain constant.
Although the blurb suggests the main characters in the book are Tia and Mike, this novel focuses on the lives of dozens of characters. Being part of the same community they all interact with each other at certain points but a lot of the plot threads are seemingly unrelated. The theme running through each thread is undoubtedly that of parenthood. With different characters protecting their children in different ways, or seeming to not give a damn about their responsibilities.
Rather than be frustrating, in Coben’s capable hands, the loose plot threads add to the mystery. It is akin to doing a puzzle where you look at a piece and wonder what on earth it could be and then suddenly it slots in and makes the whole scene come to life.
Tia and Mike are strong characters who are concerned about their son (Adam) to the point where they install Spyware on his computer to monitor his behaviour. It is not a question of trust, but precaution as their son has become so withdrawn and is behaving in a way very different from normal. It turns out their fears were correct, when Adam goes missing.
The installation of the software gives rise to a number of ethical dilemmas and Mia’s and Mike’s conflict over whether they are doing the right thing is well handled. Mike is a devout father obsessed with doing everything possible to find his son, whilst Mia is the same but has to juggle a demanding boss at the same time.
The other character’s encounter issues equally daunting from dealing with the loss of a child and not knowing how they failed him, to discovering the best way to cope with a daughter that has gone mental torment.
The result of these scenarios is a slower paced Coben novel, but still just as thrilling. Everyone is a suspect even though you don’t want them to be and Coben as usual does not give away any clues, providing just enough information to develop character and plot and no more.
There are some minor points. The sheer volume of characters means that sometimes you initially lose track of who is who. Although Coben quickly reminds the reader, it is a shame to feel lost for a bit. There is also one weak character that is clearly unhinged. His reasoning for committing the crimes he does are not completely convincing, which is a shame as all the other characters feel realistic.
When the revelations start to happen, they do not disappoint. All plot elements are satisfactorily resolved and culminate in exciting set pieces to boot.
Overall, Hold Tight marks a departure from a set of standalones that were in danger of becoming a little too formulaic. I think the new direction works extremely well and Coben has added another strong book to his bibliography.
My rating: 8.5