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One simple promise was all it took. Overhearing the kids talking about the drinking, and the driving home afterwards, Myron Bolitar remembered Debbie Frankl. Debbie was the bright young thing he'd been at school with who didn't get away with it. She was one of the unlucky ones that piled into a car after a party… and never made it home.
He wanted to tell Erin and Aimee that story, but he knew they wouldn't listen. Instead he made them promise. If they ever needed a lift, from anywhere, at any time, they should call him. He would come, and he wouldn't tell, if only they would promise.
So when Aimee Biel phoned at 2.17a.m. in the morning – of course he went.
He drives down-town and picks her up from a lonely street corner. Then she reminds him the promise was a two-way thing. He cannot tell. Rather than going home, she directs him to her friend's house out in the suburbs. She waves from the back gate.
It's only a matter of time before the police connect Bolitar with Aimee's disappearance. He is a friend of the family, and freely admits being there to pick her up. Unfortunately for him, just before he did so Aimee had taken a substantial amount of money out of an ATM: the very same ATM that was the last sighting of Katie Rochester.
Katie is over eighteen, missing a couple of months, there's been no ransom demand. So far as the police are concerned, she's a runaway adult and well within her rights to disappear. When Aimee goes missing from the exact same spot, they start to think again. Unfortunately this information reaches the ears of Katie's father, who is not a very nice person – and knows some even worse ones.
Bolitar, ex-basketball star, ex-lawyer, current Sports & Celebrity Agent is up to his neck in the proverbial. He can hold his own in a fight, but he's no superhero. Fortunately, on his side he has the legendary Winsor Horne Lockwood III. Win decided long ago to use his privilege to become the best hero, or anti-hero, that money could train him to be. He fights, mean and dirty: if he has to fight, he means to win, and he has the contacts, the training and the skill to be sure that he does.
Regular readers of Harlan Coben will know his style. For those who don't, he is probably the best modern exponent of the hook-and-twist school of crime-writing. He grabs the reader immediately, and quite simply doesn't let go. He doesn't build tension to allow it to dissipate. He builds it to form the foundation for the next turn of the plot, which heads off down an unexpected avenue, which might be towards the denouement or just another cul-de-sac to be escaped.
Tightly plotted as his novels always are, Promise Me sees the return of Bolitar after a gap of six years, with a major role for Win and walk-on parts for the rest of the crew: Esperanza, Big Cyndi, El-Al… It might be part of a series (number 8, out of 9 to date) but works perfectly well on its own for those of us not familiar with the previous episodes. Despite his characters, Coben manages to stay the right side of camp and never descends into farce, but the chosen set-up does allow for more dark humour than you'll find in any of the one-off stories.
For me it isn't Coben's best, some of the clues are too easy too soon, and I actually prefer him when he's not trying to be funny, but he is so far ahead of the current pack in the genre that it's hard to drop him a point.
A good fast pace keeps the pages turning: just the thing for those occasions when you get the chance to read the whole book at a sitting.
Published in paperback by Orion ISBN 978-0-7528-7821-8 pp 452 Cover price £6.99