Review: Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben explores the big secrets and little lies that can destroy a relationship, a family, and even a town.

The subtitle for Harlan Coben’s Don’t Let Go could be: “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.” Set in a suburban New Jersey familiar to fans of Coben’s Myron Bolitar series, the tragic events from a night 15 years in the past come back to haunt the present.

In the waning days of a long-ago senior year, Napoleon “Nap” Dumas spends the night with his hockey team on an away game. That same night, his twin, Leo Dumas, and Leo's girlfriend, cheerleader Diana Styles, mysteriously die on the railroad tracks. Nap’s girlfriend, Maura Wells, disappears as well. When the bodies start to pile up in the present day, it becomes clear that the deaths have some link to the Conspiracy Club created in high school by Leo, Diana, and some of their paranoid friends in response to mysterious happenings they see in the woods that make them think about things like Area 51 and CIA black sites. Three members of the club are dead or disappeared, and now, a fourth member is murdered execution style and a fifth disappears. Someone is definitely out to get the remaining member of the high school club.

In the intervening years, Nap, who now lives alone in the family home, has decided to skip college and become a cop—all the while having conversations with his dead twin and pining for Maura. Nap is the glue holding the story together. A reader empathizes with him; we all have a high school memory we would like to revisit or forget altogether. Like a butterfly trapped in amber, Nap—who seems caught in a kind of high school purgatory, one that runs on a constant loop through his head—seeks answers to the many questions about the events of that night, answers that turn out to be darker and far more sinister than Nap ever dared imagine. 

That deadly night starts to reveal its secrets—like the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist—with the discovery of Maura’s fingerprints in a car driven by the murderer of Pennsylvania cop, Sgt. Rex Canton, who attended high school with the dead teens. 

Nap, never a part of the club, goes to the town historian, Dr. Kaufman, for information about the site that seems to tie in with the deaths. Apparently, there was once a Nike Missile base where the Conspiracy Club spent some nights investigating. Dr. Kaufman explains:

“The Nike missile bases were constructed in the mid-fifties throughout northern New Jersey. This was during the height of the Cold War. Back then we would run school drills where kids would duck under their desks in case of nuclear attack, if you can believe it.” [I do believe it because we had those same drills in NYC]. 

Nap asks, “And what were the Nike missiles used for exactly?”

Dr, Kaufman explains, “They were surface to air. Put simply, the missiles were an air defense designed to shoot down Soviet attacking aircrafts. … The missile batteries were in approximately a dozen sites in northern New Jersey. But that changed in the early sixties when the Nike Hercules missiles were armed with W31 nuclear warheads. At that point, the sites were secreted behind barbed wire and electrified fencing.”

It all amounts to a Hitchcock-like McGuffin, a plot device that is the premise for the mystery and something for Nap to investigate as he peels back the many layers of deceptions of his high school pals. In addition to the McGuffin, there are red herrings aplenty, and a reader would do well to trust no one.

The novel is fast-paced, and though the dénouement does not live up to its promise, the bumpy ride is fun to traverse.

 

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Susan Amper, author of How to Write About Edgar Allan Poe, still mourns the loss of her Nancy Drew collection.

Read all posts by Susan Amper on Criminal Element.

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