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Posted on Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 8:05 a.m.

New novel 'Stay Close' features suspense in the suburbs from the reliable Harlan Coben

By Robin Agnew

Stay Close
Harlan Coben

Dutton, $27.95

Suburban soccer mom Megan Pierce has a problem. She's always hidden her past from her straight arrow husband Dave and her two kids. Though she's now in the suburbs, she used to be a stripper in Atlantic City, and the old life seems to be calling her back, with all it's problems, connections, and old relationships.

While Coben's formula is a now familiar one, it's also a practically iron-clad one. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't stop reading.

Coben, like many other writers who are the best at suspense (Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen), is also at heart a mystery writer, so his plots are always a thing of beauty. This one is no exception. As he begins to add his layered plot threads — and there are several — his skill as a storyteller is evident in that all the plot lines are completely memorable.

There's Ray, the photographer who's come down in the world (he's fake paparazzi at kid's bar mitzvahs and bad first dates), who is assaulted and robbed in the first chapter, his camera stolen. There's the veteran cop, Broome, who's been obsessed with the case of the missing Stewart Green for two decades. There's Megan, of course, and in a real Coben flourish, there's the two psycho enforcers, Ken and Barbie (you'll grow to fear them as you read).

There are also the little bits and pieces that make Coben stand out — his observations about life as it's lived in the 21st century suburbs are so finely detailed that reading the books just for that reason would almost be worth it. But since he's also always relating a story that's jet propelled, those details are sometimes lost as you race through the pages.

As the threads of the story start to come together, and Megan is missing from home for an atypical amount of time, the human beings behind the story are also what makes this book strong. You are able to understand and empathize with almost every character in the book (except maybe Ken and Barbie), even the eventual killer.

Megan becomes frantic to try and put the pieces of her life back together; Broome realizes he may be onto a serial killer; and Ray is starting to understand past events in a way that will help him move forward. While this isn't as strong a book as some of Coben's earlier stand alones — Tell No One and Gone for Good raised the bar pretty high — this is still a great read. I was sorry when I finished it, and looking forward to the next one.

Robin Agnew is the co-owner of Aunt Agatha's Books in downtown Ann Arbor.