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The Innocent    by Harlan Coben order for
by Harlan Coben
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Harlan Coben always puts his protagonists into complex situations (and usually on the run from the law) so that we wonder, along with them, what they have done to deserve it. He has a talent for settling the reader into his leads' minds, to share their puzzlement about the inexplicability of what's happening to them. And he lays out seemingly unrelated plot trails that eventually converge smoothly - after an ambush or two or three.

In The Innocent, Coben gives us a hero who knows he's guilty - Matt Hunter was jailed for four years for an inadvertent killing that occurred in a scuffle when he was a decent, middle class twenty-year-old college student. Though he used to be 'a bit of a wiseass and naturally charming', killing Stephen McGrath and the subsequent jail time changed him. But, nine years later, life is starting to feel good again. Though his dad died while Matt was in prison, and his beloved brother Bernie suffered a deadly brain aneurysm six years after he was released, Matt is now joyfully married to the lovely Olivia, who's pregnant with their first child.

Harlan Coben starts laying out plot threads, in which to entangle his leads and his readers. First, he shows aging Reno stripper Kimmy Dale, as she meets a young woman claiming to be the daughter of Kimmy's murdered best friend, Candace 'Candi Cane' Potter. Then, when his wife is away on business, Matt is sent a suggestive camera phone image of her with another man in a hotel room - he hires colorful PI Cingle Shaker to investigate. We also meet Essex County Homicide Investigator Loren Muse, who looks into the death of a nun (shockingly, one with breast implants) at her old Catholic school. Other deaths follow, and Matt and Olivia are both implicated.

They flee, with regular close calls (which would work well in a movie) and both the FBI and Loren Muse on their trails. Good and bad guys converge in Reno, where many answers to the puzzle are unveiled. As usual, Harlan Coben offers a compelling read, not only for a unique, thrilling, twisting plot that heads to a highly satisfying ending, but for thoughtful, credible characterizations that engage the reader with all players. Don't miss The Innocent, which also includes a bonus short story, The Rise and Fall of Super D.

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