At the annual library used book sale last Friday, I found two Harlan Coben books I had long wanted to read but which my library couldn’t get for me, so I had a happily productive weekend working my way closer to my Cannonball goal! Next up is Coben’s The Poet. But first, Gone for Good. This novel is vintage Coben, of the Tell No One quality I’ve been yearning for. I found this 2002 story a quick but nonetheless fascinating read, where most of the cliched stratagems of the thriller writer were avoided in favor of a more penetrating psychological journey. Yes, Coben has a scary psycho killer known as the Ghost–and plenty of gore as well–but he also refuses to let us draw easy conclusions.
Despite the recent death of his beloved mother from cancer, Will Klein is in a good place, with a job he loves and a woman he loves. But all that changes in one night. He suddenly discovers that his idolized older brother Ken, who the FBI insists fled 11 years earlier after raping and strangling Will’s former girlfriend but who Will is convinced was both innocent and died a second victim that night, is in fact still alive. And the love of his life Sheila disappears in the middle of the night, leaving a note saying “I will always love you.” Although Will is convinced that he has always been the coward in the family, he manages to stand up to an FBI bully, a terrifying psychopath, and his own fear of failure to search for both Ken and Sheila. But the more he learns, the more sinister links he discovers between his brother and his beloved and Will begins to question everything–including his love for the woman he was about to propose to.
Coben’s writing is riveting, as always, with many turns and twists in his plots. But this is one of the first of his novels where I found the same turns and twists in his characters, making for edge-of-your-seat reading as you try to figure out whether the good guys are bad, the bad guys are good, or whether there is a little of both in all of them. And therein, I think, lies the secret to this novel’s success. Especially fascinating was Squares, the former Nazi turned yoga guru and Will Klein’s best friend. With a murky past and a guilt-ridden present, Squares is a lovingly-drawn representation of the power of redemption and, as such, the perfect counterpoint to the terrifying Ghost.