'If I'm not writing, I hate myself'
Harlan Coben’s novels all deal with the dark side but in his latest book Stay Close, focusing on a ’soccer mom’ and her desire for the past, he brings the reader even deeper than usual
‘THRILLERS BY nature are supposed to be black and white,” says Harlan Coben, “but I’ve always preferred the grey.” You use the phrase “shades of grey” at your peril these days when talking about books in polite company, but the award-winning, bestselling Coben has built a career in the shadowy nooks and crannies where certainty goes to die.
“I hope that at the end of all of my books people realise that, y’know, this wasn’t just a case of a monster doing evil deeds, or whatever. And that’s the grey. No character in Stay Close, including the leads, are black and white. I want them to be grey. I think that makes for a much more interesting reading experience, something that will stay with you a little bit longer.”
Stay Close is Coben’s 23rd novel in a career that has spanned 22 years. He first published the thriller Play Dead in 1990, but it was the Myron Bolitar series of novels that established him as a genre superstar, with the first, Deal Breaker (1995), winning the prestigious Anthony Award.
For the last decade or so he has alternated between series books and standalones in order to keep his writing fresh.
“I wrote seven Myron Bolitar novels in a row,” he says, “and I never want to write a Myron book where he just solves a crime. Every one of them I want to be personal, and I want him to grow and change.
“The problem with that is, it makes the series limited, you can’t write a series where a guy is always going through some kind of crisis.” In Stay Close, Coben builds his thriller around Megan Pierce, a “suburban soccer mom” who has grown dissatisfied with her picture-perfect life and craves some of the excitement she experienced while working as a stripper in Atlantic City. It sounds implausible that any woman would abandon a balanced, happy existence for the sleazy uncertainties of Atlantic City’s mean streets, but Coben is trenchant in defending Megan’s decisions.
“Some people have criticised that,” he concedes, “saying, ‘Why would any woman who had a happy life go back?’ But we all have those instincts. Why does someone with a happy life start drinking, or start taking drugs, or start an affair? That’s the whole point, the human condition is not perfect. And I think her doing that makes her one of the most realistic characters I’ve ever written.