by Harlan Coben (Dutton, 416 pages, $26.95)
The suburban mystery, which draws back the curtains on neighbors’ often messy lives, has been around for decades. But Harlan Coben not only refined this type of mystery, he has turned it into his own genre: the family thriller.
Coben’s family thrillers make it acutely aware that chaos, crime and the total upheaval of lives might be inflicted not on the couple on the next block, or across town, but in your own home.
This, of course, makes them as scary as – if not more threatening than – thrillers that thrive on the landscapes of politics, terrorism and espionage.
Coben’s 15th novel, “Hold Tight,” is his most enthralling – as well as personal and timely. Parenting, privacy, trust and cyberspace are at the foreground of its plot.
Do parents have the right – or the duty – to spy on a child who may be putting himself in danger? Does a child have the right to privacy? Should a child ever be privy to adults’ secrets?
While Coben tackles these and other parenting issues with aplomb, he never lets “Hold Tight” become an issues novel. He keeps the suspense tightly wound, the plot sharply focused and the excitement level high.
Reluctantly, Mike and Tia Baye have installed a sophisticated spy program on the computer belonging to Adam, their 16-year-old son. Once a happy teen close to both his parents, Adam has become withdrawn and secretive, especially since his best friend, Spencer, committed suicide.Other families in their New Jersey suburb contend with equally pressing problems: A couple tries to find a match for their son who desperately needs a kidney transplant. A single father worries about his daughter who’s depressed over a teacher’s rude remark.
And Spencer’s parents are tortured over what they did wrong and how they can avoid making the same mistakes with their surviving children. The seemingly unrelated disappearance of two women adds to the jeopardy that surrounds everyone.
Relying more on psychological terror than gratuitous violence, Coben makes the normal terrifying. A letter jacket, an e-mail, a stray comment, a child’s car seat become lethal weapons that can ruin lives, as much as a gun or knife.