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Hold Tight    by Harlan Coben order for
Hold Tight
by Harlan Coben
Order:  USA  Can
Dutton, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If you're a parent of a teenage son or daughter, who already worries about how they spend their time on and off the Internet, then you're likely (as I did) to find Hold Tight panic-inducing - but you might also discover that this cleverly plotted thriller helps you see your own teenager more clearly. That aside, it's a gripping read that will keep you glued to its pages till Harlan Coben delivers the very last surprise in a twisty, multidimensional plot.

It opens on a vicious murder by a pair of killers, a man and a woman - who don't stop at one victim. Coben then proceeds to lay out other strands of plot, whose surface relationships are red herrings that disguise deeper - unexpected - links. The main storyline follows a family in crisis, in which the parents - transplant surgeon Mike Baye and lawyer Tia - (reluctantly and with major reservations on the father's part) install E-SpyRight software to monitor their teen son's computer activity, keystroke by keystroke. Why are they doing this? Since his close friend Spencer Hill's suicide four months before, Adam's behavior has changed - he's dropped out of sports, stays out late, and his grades are slipping.

There's a lot going on in the Baye family's neighborhood. Next door, young Lucas Loriman desperately needs a kidney transplant, but tissue tests show that Lucas's dad is not his biological father. Jill Baye's best friend Yasmin has been cruelly baited at school and cyber-bullied online, ever since a teacher, Mr. Lewiston, made an inappropriate comment about her having facial hair. Betsy Hill, her home and life hollow since Spencer's death, finds a photo on a commemorative online site that shows her son was not alone - as had been reported by his friends - the night he died. Then Adam Baye goes missing, the police dismiss him as a runaway, and his parents grow desperate.

As County Chief Investigator Loren Muse seeks the serial killer duo and deals with a 'lazy lifer' colleague, Mike Baye searches for his son in a sleazy part of town and comes under official scrutiny, while elsewhere volatile emotions come to the boil, putting the innocent in danger. Hold Tight is one of Harlan Coben's best, and he's already a maestro of the thriller genre. This time, he not only delivers a masterfully interwoven plot, but he also addresses the tough issue of parental trust. He shows the unintended consequences of decisions parents make while threading the maze of managing a rebellious teen - and deciding whether or not to trust their child and to violate that child's trust in them.

There are no easy answers in this intelligent, thought-provoking thriller. In one case, less parental trust might have saved a life, in another a lack of trust risked several lives, and in a third, a dangerous situation arose that was totally unpredictable - as Tia muses, 'Man plans, God laughs.' As parents well know, there are no global answers and all we can often do is - as this book's title suggests - hold tight to the ones we love.

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