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Laughing in the Face of Misery
on 31 October 2011
I like my private investigators to look fear in the eye and reply to its threats with a pithy quip. The light hearted gumshoe has been a staple of my crime fiction diet ever since I picked up the works of Robert B Parker and Robert Crais. Another author who played with the comedic PI is Harlan Coben; before he was serious crime man, he had created and released several books starring Myron Bolitar; Sports Agent and investigator. Bolitar is a light hearted character who hides his fear under brashness and a sense of humour, however, when you are investigating the disappearance of a bone marrow donor that could lead to the death of a 13 year old boy - is comedy acceptable?
`Darkest Fear' is a transitional book for Coben as it marks his move away from lighter crime action into the darker realms that have made him an even more successful writer. When you are dealing with an evil serial killer and dying child, the idea of making jokes no longer works and therefore Bolitar struggles in this book. He laughs in the face of fear, but he also has to laugh at his Dad's heart attack, a dying child and 4 missing people. Like some of the later Elvis Cole novels, the once happy go lucky Bolitar cannot exists successfully in such a dark novel.
If a more generic alcoholic ex-cop had been airlifted into `Darkest Fear' the book would have been more conventional and worked slightly better. As it is the tone shifts from the dark to the light with each flippant remark. The story itself is an interesting one, making the book worth reading. It would be another 6 years before Coben returned to the character of Bolitar, as if he knew he was running out of steam. A decent read for the character's fans, but not great.