Coben scores again

''Gone For Good''
By Harlan Coben
(Delacorte Press, 341 pps., $23.95)

Buy it at in hardcover

Reviewed by John Orr
May 2002

In 2001 Harlan Coben hit a grand-slam with ''Tell No One,'' which grabbed readers on the first page and carried them screaming around the bases to the last great page.

This year he starts ''Gone For Good'' with a base hit, and needs some reader help to get around to second and third before he finally steals home with a terrific last third of the novel.

We're allowed the jock analogy because Coben used to write about a sports agent.

But ''Gone For Good'' has more in common with ''Tell No One'' than it does with the Myron Bolitar series.

''Tell No One'' is about a doctor who's been walking wounded since his wife died years before; one day he learns she may still be alive, but he should ''Tell no one.'' It's a wild, non-stop ride to find out if her death was faked, who really died, why everyone is still in danger and how to beat the bad guys.

''Gone For Good'' is about Will Klein, whose brother Ken has been missing for 11 years -- after being suspected of killing Will's onetime girlfriend, Julie Miller. We meet Will while he's sitting shivah for his mother, Sunny, whose last coherent words to him were ''He's alive. He didn't do it.''

The next morning Will wakes up to find his beautiful and mysterious lover, Sheila Rogers, has left him, leaving behind a note that says she will always love him.

Before long, the feds are on his case about his brother, and about Sheila, whose fingerprints were found, they tell him, in New Mexico, at the scene of a double homicide.

''First my brother had run off,'' Will narrates. ''Now my lover vanishes into thin air. I frowned. It was a good thing I didn't have a dog.''

Good thing, indeed, because before too long a body is found and IDed by the cops and by her mother as Sheila Rogers -- who, as it turns out, had a very criminal past.

Now we are in some of the same territory as ''Tell No One'' -- the man aching over the loss of a perfect love, and wondering about another loved one who has disappeared years ago. But it takes a while to get there for ''Gone For Good,'' compared to ''Tell No One.'' And, ''Gone For Good'' spends too much time with Will maundering about, feeling sorry for himself, which is why readers have to put in a little effort to stay with the book.

But it's worth the effort. It becomes a very complicated but fascinating story, reaching back to the Klein brothers' New Jersey neighborhood and friends of theirs who grew up to be very bad men.

The search for truth about Sheila and Ken takes Will into New York hooker strolls, FBI offices and Midwest churches. Coben has a gift for creating colorful and believable characters and his dialogue is terrific. And, while sometimes we can almost give up on Will, who thinks of himself as a coward, eventually he must look into himself for the strength of character that we already knew was there.

For mystery fans who like to think their way through a novel, ''Gone For Good'' is a treat. There are lots of meaty clues to chew.