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Hold Tight

by Harlan Coben

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

Hold Tight

© Dutton

Dutton, April 2008

If there was ever a novel that called for a sociological flow chart, Hold Tight, a community murder mystery, is it. Author Coben has constructed a yarn with multiple points of view - a patchwork of tragically affected people connected to an incident of callousness and bad taste that festers into murder and suicide. And no one participant has any way of knowing how it all connects. In the small suburban town of Glen Rock, NJ, near New York City, one seed of inhumanity germinates social deconstruction and homicidal madness like a viral disease.

If you have to pick a central character, you'd likely pick Mike Baye (pronounced "buy" like what you might do when you get this book) because he's so persistent in pursuing that which appears so inexplicable. As the sympathetic backbone of the piece, Baye and wife Tia enter the tragedy through their concern about 16-year old son Adam's sudden distance from them, coupled with the lad's disregard of prior passions. It's as though one day he got up and forgot all about hockey, and the deep influence of Dad's accomplishments on the college team. By contrast, a civil conversation with Adam now is as rare as four goals in one game.

Mike and Tia's suspicions that something serious is going on in Adam's life are bad enough, but when Adam's best pal Spencer Hill commits suicide on the high school roof, alarm bells peal. Their difficult decision to install E-SpyRight spy software on Adam's computer is nothing less than what a parent should do to protect a child, though it causes them considerable soul searching.
And, when they check Adam's email and find a cryptic message in conspiratorial terms by a mysterious "CJ," (or actually CeeJay8115 to HockeyAdam1117) and when they learn from Spencer's mother Betsy Hill that Adam may have been with Spencer the night of his death, Mike starts asking questions around the neighborhood like a sleuth on uppers.

No less involved, but from a different perspective, is their 11-year old daughter Jill who suffers for best friend Yasmin after their teacher, Mr. Lewiston, makes a comment that would make Keith Olberman's "Worse, Worser, Worst" list. As for Lewiston, his presumably off-hand but very public remark about Yasmin having facial hair was never intended to become so inflamatory as to threaten his job. The community reaction astonishes him, and he wastes no time to apologize. Not only has the harm been done, however, but his next decision compounds the problem - not unlike pouring gasoline on a prairie fire to put it out.

Classmates won't stop riding Yasmin about their teacher's branding of her, and she's forced to quit dance class. Mortified and outraged, Yasmin's parents won't let go of the issue and want their pound of flesh for the insult upon their daughter. They're after Lewiston and they're not about to let go because of a lousy apology.
But the conflagration of parental outrage over a heartless remark pales at the act that started off the drama - when a killer kidnaps Marianne, a woman he meets in a bar. We quickly learn that it's no random pick-up. This guy is after a videotape that he believes Marianne has and, when his initial body blows fail to produce the item's whereabouts, he methodically destroys her face in order to stymie police identification of what he's going to leave behind: her body. The extremes of this killer's brutality isn't just a desire or need to get what he wants; it's a maniacal, inhuman opportunity to inflict pain and damage to the victim at hand.

Stepping into the skein of events are Chief Investigator Loren Muse and detective Frank Tremont, her laziest and most misogynistic man on the job. Unfortunately for Loren, this gender bigot has picked up the case, but that doesn't prevent her from checking out the crime scene for herself, and interpreting it far differently than he does. As sharp as she is, though, there's no way anyone could, at this point, suspect how this murder will connect to the malevolence rippling through the community, nor to its motivation and point of origin.

Suspects and relatives of suspects obscure the landscape like locusts on a 12-year rampage when you have nothing more at hand than a garden spray. More corpses feed the futility and the suspense. As the air clears and it becomes an experience of discovery of motivations and consequences, the power the author has at his command to envelop us in a complex mystery reveals itself.
With no single central figure to guide and anchor us on a trip through a maze of relationships and connections, it's more than normally critical to keep careful track of the names and characters as they're introduced. There's no P.I., cop or anti-hero whom we fasten to as we deal directly with the grisly, unmerciful murders, the suicide and the apparently random mayhem. A victim disappears and obscurity is the watchword as we follow the emotions of communally connected parties who can never see more than their own part of the puzzle. Meanwhile, Coben spreads the limelight almost equally among his cast of characters.

I'm not sure I want him to put me through another "interlacing community drama" anytime soon, but the truth is that I'm only too glad to read anything Coben's crafty and original mind can create.
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