Ellen's Reviews > Deal Breaker

Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben
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Jun 19, 10


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We all classify and judge; every review written here is a form of classification. Binaries are bit more emphatic. You're in or you're out; you're good or you're bad. I enjoy David's binaries, though some were not included in the chart to keep the peace :). David's binaries came to mind when I thought of the 15 BOOKS I read by Harlan Coben during my book wallow. And by the way, this review provides considerable bang for the buck, as it treats 15 books in one review.

The six stand-alone books can summarized pretty easily: someone is missing. These are the six I read:

1. Caught
2. Darkest Fear
3. Hold Tight
4. The Innocent
5. No Second Chance
6. The Woods


However, the 9 books that comprise the Myron Bolitar series prompted a binary of my own: Mysteries solved by deduction vs. Mysteries solved or "settled" by characters possessing unbelievable physical or intellectual powers. In the tradition of binaries, the qualities on the left are superior. Thus, mysteries solved by hard work/sound deduction tend to be considerably more interesting. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries would fall in this category. Just why mysteries solved by sound deduction would be superior seems evident. Extraordinary powers are a bit of cop out.

Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, a mathematical/computer genius with a photographic memory and the ability to annihilate anyone in her path easily qualifies as a character possessing unbelievable intellectual and physical powers. In the Myron Bolitar series, Winston Home Lockwood III, otherwise known as "Win," does the heavy lifting. I've never been able to picture this character - given the contrast of his ostensibly weak appearance and his supposed chick magnet good looks. Though bullied as a boy, Win used his vast wealth to study various martial arts since the age of seven, and is now a sixth-degree black belt. He's described as the "quintessential WASP" whose appearance reeks of "arrogance, elitism, Town and Country Parties Page, debutantes", etc. Like Lisbeth Salander, Win's appearance belies his lethal powers and quickness. Due to his wealth and connections, Win can also acquire information in seconds and manages, at any hint of danger, to be at Myron's side almost instantaneously. Having help like Win around does seem to stack the deck.

Chronologically, the 9 books in Myron Bolitar series are as follows:
1. Deal Breaker
2. Drop Shot
3. Fade Away
4. Backspin
5. One False Move
6. The Final Detail
7. The Darkest Fear
8. Promise Me
9. Long Lost

With the exception of one book, where things do go awry, there's not much suspense in this series, because we know Myron - enhanced by Win and a couple more superpowers in his office - is going to succeed. Coben maintains what interest is maintained in this series by his quirky characters. There's Win who, in addition to being handsome, wealthy, and physically unbeatable, tends to go out nocturnal trips to exterminate (literally) some bad guys when things get too tedious at the office.

Myron Bolitar, who had been drafted in the Celtics' first round, only to blow out a knee in a preseason game, has a medley of quirks. He lived with his parents (in a basement room) until his early thirties, not because he had to, but because he liked their company. After losing his chance to play pro basketball, Myron went to Harvard Law, worked as an FBI agent for a while and used his degree to become a sports agent. He drinks Yoo-Hoo's and has the bad habit of boinking more than one of the female leads at a time.

His two office assistants are former women wrestlers, and well, you get the idea. There is a stock of likable characters, each with a shtick, who get trotted out in each book. Coben's books are mild entertainment.

Though Stieg Larsson's trilogy is considerably better, too often problems are solved and bad guys are neutered by sensational means. Centuries earlier, Aristotle, in describing the essentials of a good plot, explained how an audience can be surprised but, in looking back will see that the events emerged logically. "Super" characters function a bit like the Deus ex machina device used incorrectly. They mete out justice artificially. The plot gets wrapped up, rather than unfolding - intelligently and logically.

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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by David (last edited Jun 21, 2010 09:53AM) (new)

David YES!

Except:

I must quibble with two details of my binary chart, and as you know, I am quite adept at quibbling. I double majored in quibbling and indignation in college.

(1) 'Those who like Salinger' would ideally be replaced by 'Those who love Salinger.' Liking is insufficient.

(2) I do not dislike Tolstoy. In fact, I like him very much, but in the Ultimate Fighting match that pits him versus Dosty, Dosty emerges victorious.

Here are some other popular Good vs. Bad binarial oppositions that I can heartily endorse:

Good vs. Bad (Abridged)
Mustard / Mayonnaise
Francophilia / Anglophilia
Federal Powers / States' Rights
Mr. Furley / Mr. Roper
Fellini / Antonioni
Bergman / Tarkovsky
Romanticism / Rationalism
Taco Bell / Del Taco
Anti-Bolanoism / Hipster-Douchebag Fawning Over Bolano
Brunette / Blonde
Sports Haters / Sports Lovers
Cool Colors / Warm Colors
Matte / Glossy
East Coast / West Coast
North / South
Mars / Venus
Greek Mythology / Roman Mythology
Autumn / Spring
Pessimism / Optimism
Left (Political) / Right (Political)
Ford / General Motors
Sparkling / Still
Modern / Traditional
Neomodernism / Paleomodernism
Cold / Hot


Ellen Actually, I knew "like" wasn't a strong enough verb for Salinger, and I also realized Dostoevsky/Tolstoy wasn't a fair binary, because you only preferred one to the other. However, I'm not beneath cheating a little.

You're omitting some of your binaries, but I'll show some restraint.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason David you forgot:

Good vs. Bad
Scotch / Gin


message 4: by David (new)

David No.

Good vs. Bad
Alcohol, Coffee, Water / All Other Beverages


message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason You and I sir, are in complete agreement. You're back on my 'Friend' status.


message 6: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Federal powers, really? Umbrage taken.


Ellen Isaiah wrote: Umbrage taken.

Really? Good deal. I'll put the bags in my driveway.


message 8: by Lobstergirl (last edited Jun 21, 2010 02:11PM) (new)

Lobstergirl When I see "Myron Bolitar" the image that crowds everything else out of my mind is Simón Bolívar.

I haven't read any Coben. The only thing I know about him is that he went to Amherst at the same time as Dan Brown. I guess my question would be, having chosen the genre, why Coben? Did someone recommend him to you?


Ellen Lobstergirl wrote: "When I see "Myron Bolitar" the image that crowds everything else out of my mind is Simón Bolívar.

I haven't read any Coben. The only thing I know about him is that he went to Amherst at the same ..."


It is quite the name, but that's the point. Coben's characters are quirky in the extreme.

No, I was just down in the dumps, and coping by reading huge amounts of good lit along with a lot of escapist lit (like Coben). It's fortunate that I'm a fast reader; otherwise, these 15 books could have wasted a really significant amount of time.


message 10: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow Wait a second. Maybe I'll regret this, but I have to step in here and ask: why are Bergman and Tarkovsky even in a fight? That makes no sense to me. Did Tarkovsky already waste Kubrick and now Bergman's stepped in to defend his title? Otherwise, I at least understand the oppositions, even if you're totally wrong (West Coast is way better).

Ellen - what a nice review! But don't you think super deductive powers work as a kind of super power, too?


message 11: by Ellen (new) - rated it 1 star

Ellen Meredith wrote: Ellen - what a nice review! But don't you think super deductive powers work as a kind of super power, too?

Thanks, Meredith. That's a good point, but I think there's a difference between deductive ability - even exceptional ability - when the deduction is the product of hard work and logic vs. the "power" mystery where computers are hacked within seconds and numerous bad guys are wiped out promptly by a single person with unbelievable physical powers. In the latter type of mystery, there is less focus on deduction than on presenting one even more sensationalized scene after another.


message 12: by Sparrow (new)

Sparrow I'm glad you feel that way (not being sarcastic). Both usually sound pretty much the same to me because they're special powers I haven't experienced in real life, and you know the author's there giving them a leg up. But physics-defying superpowers are funnier, so I tend to like them a little more.


message 13: by Steve (new)

Steve Doig Yes -- very good on the deus ex machina trope. Robert Crais uses it in his Elvis Cole books, with superman Joe Pike as his DEM. At least one other thriller favorite author does this, though I can't remember who at the moment. Maybe JD Robb (Nora Roberts) with Lt. Dallas's billionaire lover?


message 14: by Taylor (new)

Taylor I thought I had read all the Coben's, and I recently received "Deal Breaker," so I googled, and this was the 2nd result. I guess I suck- I don't like Salinger or dogs- absolutely hate cats, though.


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