Written by Harlan Coben — Let’s face it, Harlan Coben has done just about everything an American crime author can do. His Myron Bolitar novels, in which an ex-basketball player solves crimes, won the author Edgar, Anthony and Shamus awards in the 1990s. Out of this has come his foray in to young adult crime fiction with the Mickey Bolitar series. But perhaps his best work has been his you-thought-you-knew-someone thrillers. Books like Tell No One and Just One Look are incredibly gripping page turners in which Coben exercises his pacey, to-the-point style and really nails the fears and dreams of America’s middle-class suburbanites. Tell No One was even made into an award-winning French movie.
Six Years is a standalone along the same lines as the standalone thrillers mentioned. This time however, the main character isn’t drawn into a mystery after one of their nearest and dearest disappears. Instead, the trouble starts six years before the real story kicks off. Jake Fisher falls wildly in love with Natalie Avery during a summer romance, but all of a sudden she ditches him and marries another man.
In the present day, Fisher is a successful college professor teaching political science at a small fictional university called Lanford. As such, our main character shares a few similarities with the author himself, who studied political science at Amhurst College, and was a fraternity man. Jake Fisher is also tall and well built, and used to be a bouncer. When he reads the obituary of Todd Sanderson, who married Natalie those six years ago, his curiosity is piqued. He promised her he’d leave them alone, but now might be the right time to make contact with her again.
The trouble is, when he attends Todd’s funeral, it’s a teenage son who gives the eulogy and the grieving wife at the funeral is definitely not Natalie. Something strange is going on and there seems to be no trace of Natalie whatsoever. Jake travels to the church where Todd and Natalie were married, and gets short shrift from the reverend there. No such marriage is in the church’s registers. Nobody that Jake and Natalie knew back when they were dating really remembers her. Puzzled, he returns to campus only to be kidnapped by two mafia men. There’s a high speed struggle in the back of a van and Jake barely escapes with his life. Now he really can’t let go because he thinks that wherever Natalie is, she’s in real danger.
The story carries on with many more twists and turns. On top of the mafia, the FBI is hunting for Natalie too. The question is why? In this age of CCTV, when we can be tracked by our credit cards, mobile phones, internet usage and more, how has she been able to disappear so comprehensively? And who is helping her cover her tracks?
Our narrator Jake Fisher slides fluidly between cynicism, seriousness and self-depracation. Six Years is an enjoyable read, if a touch glib in places. Coben’s skill at writing page-turners comes to the fore with every chapter and while most of the characters are quite straightforward they are believable and the dialogue helps the novel zip along. Does the premise of the novel, when it’s discovered, seem far fetched? The answer is yes, very much so.
The issue, though, is that the love Jake holds for Natalie isn’t quite convincing. After six years he’s carrying the torch for someone he was with for a few months, it’s not clear why, and he’ll happily have casual sex if it’s on offer. It’s more believable that he wants to get to the bottom of the mystery out of his own bloody-mindedness – and his black and white sense of justice – more than any passionate need to find her. It’s easy to root for him in the given situations he faces because of the immediate sense of danger that Coben conjures, but harder to support him through the overarching storyline.
Six Years will make for a fine summer read. It’s fast moving and gripping, and will keep you guessing, without being too engrossing, troubling, or delving into any dark issues. The latest news is that Paramount is to make a film of Six Years with Hugh Jackman in the role of Jake Fisher.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars