Posted by: Jeanie F | April 25, 2010

Caught by Harlan Coben

Although crime fiction isn’t something I read often, I enjoy a great escape every now and then. I’m a longtime fan of Michael Connelly and have enjoyed both of the Stieg Larsson mysteries that have come out recently. So, when my neighbor recommended I read Caught, the new best seller by Harlan Coben, I thought, “Why not?” I’ve been working my way through the Vietnam War novel, Matterhorn, an extremely intense story by Karl Marlantes and, frankly, needed a break.

Caught begins with a prologue in which a suspected pedophile is “caught” by a television newsmagazine that specializes in exposing molesters. This prologue is followed by the opening chapter in which a mother discovers the disappearance of her teenage daughter. This type of crime novel, I learned, is in a specific genre niche called “Family in Peril”. I hope that this isn’t going to be a huge spoiler but I’m telling you anyway – there will be a surprise connection between the exposed pedophile and the missing girl!

I doubt that anyone reads this genre for its great literary form, but some crime writers do manage to write in a way that not only entertains but develops plot and character without hitting you over the head with the obvious. If Caught is indicative of Coben’s other work, he is not of that ilk. This milk train of a book lumbers along predictable lines – a slim plot interspersed with huge amounts of irrelevant information. An example:

Like most suburban parents, Marcia had a love-hate relationship with sports. She knew the relative long-term irrelevancy and yet still managed to get caught up in it.

Now, if this had any thing to do with the story, or the character, it could be an interesting detail or even, perhaps, a red herring. It was neither. The mother of this girl has almost no place in the story, and her feelings towards sports even less. Like so much of the inflated narrative, it seems to be complete filler. You can turn to just about any page in this book and find more of the same.

And then there’s the problem with the characters themselves. There are lots of them. Five Princeton roommates, a handful of TV folks, the various suburban families, police and detectives – and one surprise appearance at the very end who more or less ties it all together. Personally, I always feel cheated when an author is too lazy to subtly hide a key character throughout the novel and then shock us at the resolution with the major role this character plays. The best crime writers keep the important information hidden in plain view. Not the case in Caught.

The best thing I can say about this is that I bought the $9.99 version on my Kindle. If I had paid the full price of $27.95 THAT would be a crime!

Grade: D


  1. So not much of break from Matterhorn, eh? Too bad. I’m starting that monster tomorrow.

  2. Skip, Matterhorn IS huge – but at least I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time reading it. It’s fascinating and horrifying – I’ll be looking forward to reading your review!

  3. I’m really disappointed to see Caught receive such a low score. I’m a huge Coben fan and I’ve read most of his stand alone books and absolutely loved them. I’ve really looked forward to this book and so far I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews on it. It seems either people really love it or people really hate it. I’ll probably still read the book since I’m a huge fan, but I’ll wait to see if I can find it at half price books or something so that I don’t have to pay full price for it. $30 for a book truly is a crime.

    • This was the first Coben book I’ve read, so I have no basis for comparison to his other work. I selected it because the plot line sounded interesting, and I enjoy reading mysteries/crime novels as a change of pace, although I don’t read them often. Comparing this to others in the genre, I thought it was disappointing. I definitely recommend looking for a discount book, or waiting for the paperback edition.

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