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Stick to Pure Thrillers Mr. Coben, Avoid the Romance
Harlan Coben novels have always been some of my favorite to listen to on long car rides. They are suspenseful and intriguing, albeit very formulaic. This novel, Six Years, attempts to add a flavor of romance into the mix. The problem is not the romance angle. The problem is that the entire premise of the novel makes the lead character so detestable and downright pathetic that it's tough not to just scoff at his actions.
The main character, Jake Fisher, is 35, and the most unintelligent and least studious college department chair you will find, fictional or otherwise. The guy works at what is supposed to be a prestigious university, is very young, and has risen to a position of leadership in the political science department. Yet he plays X-Box, gets drunk regularly and picks up graduate students for one night stands. Not really professor material.
The worst thing, and what makes this entire novel unbelievable, is that this guy had a 3-month fling with a woman 6 years ago, and is hell bent on finding her because the man she assumed to be her husband was murdered. He continues in his ridiculous pursuit after running into a corrupt police force, being beaten into unconsciousness and barely escaping with his life, being kidnapped by the mafia, killing a mobster hitman and barely escaping with his life, going after a guy in the mafia, hunting down this woman's sister and mother, finding out that his best friend is involved in the conspiracy and says he will kill him if he goes any further, and on and on and on.
All this, for a THREE MONTH FLING SIX YEARS AGO. It is the most unrealistic scenario Mr. Coben has ever penned. Creating circumstances that are unbelievable and far fetched works in a thriller because not everyone can conceive of those situations or relate. However, creating entirely unbelievable and unrealistic characters and unrealistic responses to situations that are commonplace to every reader, makes the entire thing feel fraudulent. It's almost as though Mr. Coben has never actually experienced a summer fling, or a broken heart, or a lost love. These are common things that occur to everyone. And not a single one of them reacts in anywhere near the obsessive and stalker-ish manner that "Jake Fisher, college professor" reacts. Forget all the crazy stuff he ran into that CLEARLY tells him to just walk away, the initial desire to hunt down a woman who left you 6 years ago after 3 months just does not resonate. It's soooooooo far-fetched. It's even more far-fetched than a secret organization who trains and hides people, or the mafia putting a hit out on a professor who gave the boss's son a bad grade. All that stuff works in fiction. But this pathetic character is just not realistic to be the protagonist of a novel.
The Benedict character is actually far more believable emotionally. The man was married to the love of his life for 12 years or so and then made the gut-wrenching decision to disappear and make her believe he was dead so that he could save her life. He drinks and canoodles with women as a means of blocking out the pain of leaving his wife behind, even if he knows it's for a great reason. But we, the reader, are expected to think that "Jake" feels the same hurt and emotional pain that Benedict does after a 3 MONTH FLING? It's ludicrous and actually horrifying that the two character's pain and emotional turmoil is presented as being comparable. Come on man.
The thriller aspects of the book are not so bad. That's Coben's bread and butter. But they are always trumped by the motive that Fisher lacks. It's just not there. Coben simply does not understand human relationships to write a love story. A father and husband looking for his wife and protecting his children works. A stripper escaping her past life works. Most of his main characters tend to work. Jake Fisher does not work. He is just not believable because no one would react that way and if anyone did, they would be obsessive and stalker crazy, they wouldn't appear devoted.
Also, stop using baseball bats and biting. In every book the main character gets hit with a baseball bat and then there is basically a cut and pasted paragraph of the pain in the head as they come to. And yet, never concussions. They can always spring up and run away. Stop using baseball bats.