The good deed, punished;
another excellent tale from Coben

''Promise Me''
By Harlan Coben
(Dutton, 370 pp., $26.95)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
June 2006

Harlan Coben built his early readership with an amusing series about a heroic sports agent named Myron Bolitar, then expanded his following with several stand-alones, starting with the excellent ''Tell No One'' in 2001.

Promise Me Coben brings Bolitar back in ''Promise Me,'' which hit the best-seller lists its first week out as Coben's old and new fans rushed to grab it. And we can be sure ''Promise Me'' is going to send Coben's stand-alone fans back to the book stores to pick up all the Bolitar series they missed. It's a blast.

Bolitar has had a quiet hiatus. ''In six years he hadn't thrown a punch. He hadn't held, much less fired, a gun. He hadn't threatened or been threatened.''

That changes after he hears two teen-age girls talking about one of them getting drunk and driving home with a drunken boyfriend. He gives each teen one of this cards with all his phone numbers on it and gets them to promise to call him if they ever need a ride. ''I won't ask any questions. I won't tell your parents. That's my promise to you. I'll take you wherever you want to go.''

No good deed goes unpunished, of course, and after one of the teens takes him up on his offer, then disappears, Bolitar is up to his former-basketball-star-high neck in cops, angry parents, big-city drug dealers, pimps, psychotic hit men and creepy high-school teachers.

Not to mention the women professional wrestlers and aging actors that make up his usual clientele and circle of friends.

Also on hand is Bolitar's sometimes roommate (at the Dakota in Manhattan) and old friend Win (Windsor Horne Lockwood III), who ''in the face, anyway,'' looks pampered and soft. But his body tells another story, ''all knotted, coiled muscle, not so much wiry as, if you will, barbed-wiry.''

Long-time Bolitar fans won't be surprised to see Bolitar and Win run from danger to danger, leaving bodies behind, and Coben's newer fans won't be surprised to find this is another thrill ride of a book, full of twists and turns to the last page.

And, it's full of Coben's usual warmth and wisdom. His books -- including this one -- have plenty of modern dangers, from drugs in schoolyards to knives in the hands of pyschopaths, but they also overbrim with love of family and life itself.

A few examples of Coben's New Jersey-spun wisdom from ''Promise Me'':

''In a sense, you are always seventeen years old and waiting for your life to begin.''

''You just need to survive adolescence. That's all. Just get through it.''

''From his past run-ins with the law, Myron had learned a few basic truisms that could be summed up thusly: Just because you haven't done anything wrong doesn't mean you're not in trouble. Best to play it with that knowledge.''

'''Death is a constant outrage. Life is more valuable than you can ever imagine.'''

''If a beer needs a fruit topping, choose another beer.''