Onyx reviews: No Second
Chance by Harlan Coben
Though he's a successful plastic surgeon, life has not always been kind to
Dr. Marc Seidman, the hangdog narrator of Harlan Coben's new thriller. He
married his girlfriend after she became pregnant but he's not sure he ever
really loved her.
Seidman wakes up in a hospital room after twelve days in a coma to discover that
an unknown intruder shot both him and his wife. Their six-month-old daughter
Tara is missing. He has no idea who would commit such a violent crime against
his family. Even though Seidman's wounds should have been fatal, the police and
FBI suspect that he had something to do with his wife's death.
Shortly after his release from the hospital, kidnappers make a ransom demand
through Seidman's wealthy father-in-law, who puts up the two million dollars in
cash. The kidnappers leave no room for negotiation and apply the usual
"don't call the cops" condition. If he disobeys, there'll be no second
chance. Unsure about how to proceed, Seidman takes the advice of his lawyer
friend and tells the agents, who are still investigating him. The kidnappers
grab the cash and vanish without returning Tara.
Seidman has friends who know how the system works, including Rachel, an old
girlfriend who is a former FBI agent. His search for the truth is hampered by
the fact that he's the prime suspect—and the way Coben switches back and forth
between first and third person narration leaves that possibility open.
Coben masterfully leads readers through a variety of possible suspects. The
perpetrators of the crime had to be familiar with Seidman and his family, but
they also seem to have connection to the police.
Seidman never gives up hope that Tara is still alive, so he is vulnerable when
the kidnappers call again eighteen months later, offering the previously
forbidden second chance. As is typical in Coben's novels, Seidman learns that
people close to him—his wife and Rachel, for example—had hidden lives. What
he learns makes him reevaluate his own life before the shooting.
He's far from the typical thriller hero, introspective, self-analytical and
occasionally whiney, unlikely to be played by Harrison Ford in the motion
picture. He's a devoted father above everything else, driven to get his daughter
back while continuing to function in his daily life, which includes caring for
his ailing parents.
Coben pays more than superficial attention to his characters, which doesn't
always happen in thrillers. Among the villains is a former child TV star who
claims she is over the celebrity rush of her early years, but brings her past
fame up whenever possible. Unexpected helpers enter the story late in the game,
including Verne, a redneck with a mail order bride who lends some comic relief
and much-needed muscle to Seidman's task.
The biggest problem with Coben's books is their titles, which are so similar and
monotonous that his readers won't be able to remember one from the other based
on name alone. Tell No One, One False Move, No Second Chance,
after a while they all blend together.
Coben produces a number of false-endings in which he seems to wrap up the story
only to introduce yet another twist. The payoff is surprising and fresh. The
ending isn't tidy and not everyone gets what he or she deserves, including the
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