Like Crack, Only Not Bad For Your Teeth 

Novelist Harlan Coben’s newest is delightfully addictive

If you like crack fiction, put Hold Tight in your pipe and smoke it.

If you like crack fiction, put Hold Tight in your pipe and smoke it.

Cormac McCarthy he’s not, but Harlan Coben won’t make you cry yourself to sleep, either. There’s not a single sentence in Coben’s 15th novel that any writer of repute would covet, but no one reads Coben expecting a literary stylist. No, his genius is in conceiving and crafting masterful thrillers whose perfect pace and sequencing leave readers all but breathless. And in Hold Tight (Penguin Group, 416 pp., $26.95), he adds yet another reader-pleasing ingredient: the ability to seize on a cultural flashpoint, making it central to a story that almost anyone—especially any parent—can identify with.

Sixteen-year-old Adam Baye has been unhappy and withdrawn since the suicide of his best friend. For his parents, the dilemma (or cultural hot button) is whether to spy on their teenager to learn what’s going on in his life. As it turns out, putting a kid under surveillance is easy to do. So after the requisite soul-searching discussion weighing the costs of violating Adam’s privacy against the potential benefits of helping him during his time of teen angst, Tia and Mike Baye pull the trigger, commissioning the grimy, long-haired, tattooed tech guy at Tia’s office to install sophisticated spyware on Adam’s computer.

“The discussion—Mike didn’t want to classify it as an argument—lasted for a month,” the best-selling Coben writes. “Mike tried to coax his son back to them. He invited Adam to the mall, the arcade, concerts even. Adam refused. He stayed out of the house until all hours, curfews be damned. He stopped coming down to eat dinner. His grades slipped. They managed to get him to visit a therapist once. The therapist thought that there might be depression issues. He suggested perhaps medication, but he wanted to see Adam again first. Adam pointedly refused.”

(What parent of a teenager wouldn’t keep reading?)

As disquieting as life in the Baye household is, things in the suburb of Glen Rock, N.J., become much more disturbing. A serial killer has gruesomely murdered a woman, trying to hide her identity by dressing her post-mortem to look like a street hooker, and then dumping her in a shady part of town.

Like all mysteries worth their weight in paper, Coben weaves the fallout of Adam Baye’s misadventures with the search for a psychotic murderer or murderers and the difficult discovery of exactly what happened to Adam’s best friend on the night of his death.

The answers come in part by using the Internet to track down cell phone users and by reading email that wasn’t meant to be opened by anyone but its sole recipient. Only by book’s end can a reader decide whether the Bayes made the right decision—and even then it’s entirely subjective. Meanwhile, do you know what your teen’s doing right now?

Coben will discuss Hold Tight at Davis-Kidd Booksellers at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 19.

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