The last time I read and reviewed Harlan Coben, I was critical, more than I usually am, and welp, I’m feeling that way about another one of his, 2013’s, Six Years. Maybe it had just been a while since I read Coben and didn’t remember his style. Still. Coben gets me, I will say that. As I was reading the book, which was an easy read I started last night and finished today, it occurred to me: Coben’s books are a lot like an episode of Criminal Minds or insert any other fun network television procedural. I know it isn’t “Golden Era” level TV writing or acting, like a Breaking Bad, for example, but I still enjoy it, and I still get wrapped up in the whodunit. That’s Coben. That’s Six Years. My criticisms would be of the writing (Coben’s dialogue again, and just in general, the meta thoughts of the main protagonist can be cheesy, which he’s self-aware about, and in the case of this book, the cheese is extra thick) and the plotting, but I can’t help it. I get engrossed and need to know what the mystery is, and how it all connects.
So, you know, that’s why I go back to: If you made me want to read your book, it is, by definition, good writing! Coben made me want to read his book; ergo, it is good writing. And I would argue, is what makes something like an episode of Criminal Minds good TV. The differentiation I would make is that there is just “better” writing and “better” TV.
The premise of the book is that Jake Fischer, a political science professor, found the love his life, Natalie, and then she randomly dumped him to quickly marry her old high school sweetheart. She told him to leave her alone. Then we fast forwarded six years later, hence the title, and Natalie’s “husband” is murdered. Jake, still in love with Natalie, goes to the funeral out of curiosity, and her husband’s wife isn’t … her; it isn’t Natalie. That sends Jake down a wormhole trying to uncover the aforementioned mystery I needed uncovered.
Okay, so, the basic contours of the premise — a man deeply in love with a woman, who then dumps him and marries another guy — made me think, “Is this book going to be about my life?!” I jest, but I did relate to the broad issue presented. But then what killed it for me is that we learn that Jake and Natalie only knew each other for three months! Three months! Sure, Coben gives us all sorts of romantic, cliché language about how Jake just knows she was the one, and that it wasn’t just a summer fling, but three months! And to still be fixated on her to this extent six years later felt a bit much, even for, a cliché, hopeless romantic. What also killed it for me is how persistent Jake is. I get it, he is trying to unravel the mystery, but it is hard not to take his words and actions, to a certain extent, to be stalkerish behavior! It made me not want to root for him too much.
As it turns out, Natalie avenged her father who was killed by a mob boss’s son years ago, and essentially went into “witness protection” thereafter. That is why the ruse of dumping Jake and marrying some other guy: to protect them both. But instead of going into the U.S. Marshals Service, she went into a private witness protection program that was fronting as a charity known as Fresh Start. Get it? There are others involved in this program, including Jake’s mentor at the college, and his best friend, another professor at the college. What is weird is that they are so protective of the witness protection program to the extent of literally carrying around cyanide pills, which I suppose I understand that, that they are willing to kill, or at least severely threaten, Jake over it. Even Jake’s best friend pulled a gun on him. I get lives are at stake, but Jake isn’t a threat! He’s not the mob!
But again, nonetheless, I was still intrigued by the story! I wanted to figure out Natalie’s story like Jake did; I just didn’t care about the payoff (those two getting back together, as they do at the end, married and pregnant). The action sequences were solid, too, because Jake was depicted as a former bouncer who is six feet, five inches and 250 pounds. So, he was able to hold his own in dicey situations. He even killed a feared mob heavy (who was the one to kill Natalie’s “husband”) in self-defense.
Anyhow, if you’re a Criminal Minds fan, a Coben fan, and someone who doesn’t take fiction too seriously, then you will like this! That is the thing, yes, I think of plot holes while reading, and roll my eyes at some of the writing, but I still have fun reading it, and that is what matters most to me.