Tell everyone:
This one's great

"Tell No One"
By Harlan Coben (Delacorte Press, 339 pages, $22.95)

Buy it at in hardcover  or in paperback

Reviewed by John Orr
July 2001

People who love books every once in a while get a special treat: To be part way through something by an author previously unknown to them and realize Wow! This writer's great!

Then comes the quick turn to the front to see what else that author has published, and find a long list. What a treat!

That happened to me with Harlan Coben's "Tell No One."

I don't know where I'd had my head buried, but while it was down there Coben had written seven other novels and won a bunch of awards. The previous novels are suspense whodunits about a sports agent named Myron Bolitar and have a lot of fans.

Those folks may be disappointed by "Tell No One," because Bolitar is nowhere to be found in it, but for me it was nothing but net.

Coben starts with a deeply touching tale of an amazing, ideal romance narrated by Dr. David Beck.

"We met two weeks later in Miss Sobel's second-grade class, and from that moment on -- please don't gag when I say this -- we were soul mates. Adults found our relationship both cute and unhealthy -- our inseparable tomboy-kickball friendship morphing into puppy love and adolescent preoccupation and hormonal high school dating. Everyone kept waiting for us to outgrow each other. Even us. We were both bright kids, especially Elizabeth, top students, rational even in the face of irrational love. We understood the odds.

"But here we were, 25-year-olds, married seven months now, back at the spot when at the age of 12 we'd shared our first real kiss."

But, that very same night, Beck and Elizabeth are viciously attacked. Beck is pounded unconscious with a baseball bat and wakes up in a hospital. A few days later, his father-in-law, a cop, identifies the body of his wife, who had been tortured to death by a serial killer who is later imprisoned.

It's eight years after that terrible event that we meet Beck, and it's easy to like him. He still loves Elizabeth and misses her every day. He's had plenty of time to be philosophical, but no adages or other words comfort him. He just keeps at his job, as a pediatrician at a Washington Heights clinic, helping poor people.

"I like being a pediatrician. I don't particularly like doing it out in the suburbs with soccer moms and manicured dads and, well, people like me," he says.

He's become a good doctor who is loved by friends, family and patients, and wishes Elizabeth could see him now. He doesn't think he'd had to be all that good before, because Elizabeth's goodness made up for his weaknesses in their joined lives. But he has become a better person in the forge of tragedy.

We like this guy and feel his pain.

And then he gets an email from his dead wife.

At least, he thinks it must be from her -- she's the only one who would know about "Kiss time" and their anniversary.

And then he sees her on a Web cam.

But, she says in her terse email, "They're watching. Tell no one."

Then things start getting really complicated as old hidden bodies start showing up, and then some freshly killed bodies, and Beck's friends start wondering if he is crazy and he himself hints at having something to feel guilty about.

At one point, as gunfire explodes nearby, he narrates, "Three days ago, I was a dedicated doctor sleepwalking through my own life. Since then, I had seen a ghost, gotten emails from the dead, had become a suspect in not one but two murders, was on the run from the law, had assaulted a police officer, and had enlisted the aid of a known drug dealer.

"Heck of a 72 hours."

And, a heck of a good mystery and thriller. Coben is gifted at creating characters, making us care about them and then twisting them like pretzels around plots that hold together like spring steel. And, he's liberal with clues. Between Beck's first-person narrative and some omniscient passages, there is plenty of detecting possible, both for Beck and for the reader.

What a treat.