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Book review: Detective searches for his twin’s killer 15 years after the murder

October 16, 2017

What would thriller writers do without the vastness of the U.S. government, which nevertheless has plenty of hidden niches to inspire storylines?

Novelist Harlan Coben, one of the best in the genre, grew up in a New Jersey community next to a Cold War-era U.S. missile base meant to protect the New York City area.

With “Don’t Let Go,” the best-selling author conjures up a thriller that raises fictional questions about the extent of the government activities there.

The novel’s main character is a county detective named Napoleon “Nap” Dumas. Dumas has been haunted for 15 years by the violent and mysterious death of his twin brother and the simultaneous disappearance of his girlfriend, with whom he’d broken up while he was still in high school in New Jersey.

The book opens with Dumas’ runaway ex-girlfriend as she works a scam in which she entices a targeted man in a bar, who is going through a divorce, into drinking too much. The man is then pulled over by a policeman. The arrest allows the divorcing wife to gain the upper hand in a custody fight.

But, the scam goes bad when the policeman is murdered during the driving-while-intoxicated arrest. Dumas’ ex-girlfriend’s fingerprints show up at the scene, launching Dumas into an investigation of what happened 15 years earlier.

Coben takes an interesting approach in Dumas’ first-person narrative. Dumas tells the novel’s story, but it is a narrative addressed to his dead twin brother. Readers basically are eavesdropping on this narrative meant for a dead character.

People involved in a high school “conspiracy club” led by Dumas’ brother, which looked into activities at the school’s nearby missile base 15 years earlier, are being killed, intensifying Dumas’ investigation. A large cast of characters is created. The plot goes back and forth into history with multiple moving parts, but Coben handles the complexities smoothly while building the suspense.

A side issue touched upon during the plot — online shaming — is one of the book’s best elements. People — even high school students — can freely and falsely accuse someone of something illegal or discriminatory online through social media anonymously, without proof or accountability. The human damage can be immense, and the laws are fuzzy. The subject likely will be in the news more often in the future. In the novel, online shaming happens to two characters.

Otherwise, “Don’t Let Go” follows the tried-and-true pattern of thrillers, with plot twists as the story becomes more violent and tense. As the 15-year-old truths emerge, Dumas continues telling the story to his dead twin brother.