From the BLURB:
Ex fashion model and successful business woman Laura Ayers' perfect world is shattered at a time which should have been the happiest of her life. On her honeymoon, her sports superstar husband goes for a swim - and never returns. But what has happened to David - can he really be dead? Whilst struggling to cope with her almost overwhelming grief, Laura is plagued by questions and doubts. Was it an accident? Or suicide? Or is it some terrible, ill-judged hoax? As events begin to unfold, Laura starts to question David's mysterious disappearance. She begins to uncover a conspiracy which reaches deep into the past and is now slowly beginning to destroy everyone involved. Someone will do anything to keep Laura away from the awful truth - and she has no idea who she can trust...
Harlan Coben has made a name for himself with his bestselling series ‘Myron Bolitar’. ‘Play Dead’ is his first published novel, first released in 1990.
I don’t know why I've never read a Harlan Coben novel before – I suppose I always thought his books were more ‘macho’ male-orientated. Colour me surprised when this, his debut, has an ex fashion-model as the main protagonist!
Laura is 23 and retired from the glamorous fashion industry. She is now a successful businesswoman and married to a famous basketball player, David Baskin. Laura and David are deeply in love, and when the novel begins they are enjoying their honeymoon in Palm Cove. One day of their honeymoon David goes for a swim and never returns. The local police hint at suicide, but Laura knows she and David were in love and just beginning their life together. Suggestions of David being a poor swimmer are refuted – he was an athlete! Eventually David’s best friend and Boston police officer, T.C, comes to investigate. Soon, David’s ruined body is discovered.
In the reading of his will Laura uncovers some disconcerting facts. Like David having recently transferred large amounts of money to a Swiss bank account. Laura intends to investigate her husband’s untimely death... but as she starts to make enquiries she is warned off the trail and cautioned to keep herself and her loved ones safe.
She hugged him, her eyes closing. “I love you too, David. I couldn’t live without you.”It becomes clear early on that Harlan Coben prefers his stories to err on the side of implausible. David conveniently having a police-detective best friend is the least of the outlandish. But at some point I just decided to throw disbelief out the window and go with it – and I found that I really enjoyed Coben’s heightened sense of reality and the plots dubiousness. Yes, it’s far-fetched, but it does heighten the suspense and make the reading genuinely *fun*. Often mystery novels and thrillers are gloomy and debased stories, but the little bit of over-the-top in ‘Play Dead’ gave the book a real entertaining edge.
“Grow old with me, Laura, and I promise I’ll always make you happy.”
“You’ve got a deal,” she said gently, “and you better stick to it.”
“Forever,” he said.
Laura kissed him then, not realizing that the honeymoon was over.
I did enjoy the coincidences in the plot, but at some point I would have liked Coben to reign them in a little bit – but I did keep in mind that this was his first novel. And actually, in this re-release of ‘Play Dead’ there is an introductory note from Coben in which he both apologizes and defends his first writing foray. It’s a very humorous introduction in which Coben blames a little bit of the books' vigour on his own youth at the time, but he says he learnt a lot from his first book.
I thought Laura was a great lead. I was initially wary of having an ex-fashion model protagonist, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to sympathize (or stomach) the details of Laura’s charmed existence. But Coben does such a fantastic job of absolutely destroying Laura’s idyllic life that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and marvel at the wreck of things. She was also one tough bird, and I really admired her tenacity and guts. I think her being an ex-model was more a case of Coben building her up to knock her down, and really just a by-line to her character.
This is a completely implausible thriller that is both fun and serious. Coben does a great balancing act and even manages to support the plot’s more outlandish coincidences. Sometimes he’s a little too free with impossibilities, but otherwise ‘Play Dead’ was a great read and a fantastic introduction to Harlan Coben.