Harlan Coben’s most recent story is masterful, as always. The path of Kat, the detective protagonist, to solve a perplexing disappearance of a mother (brought to Kat’s attention by the missing woman’s son) is quite an adventure. At the same time, Kat is, oddly enough, connected to her long lost love, who disappeared almost 20 years earlier. In the end, the sleuth discovers an ingenious crime spree developed by a longtime pimp to earn more money in the internet age from those seeking a love connection online.
As a thriller writer, I find it instructive to synthesize the critical elements of other master thriller writers in the hope of finding keys for my own success. In this quest, I have identified elements that I believe to be critical for such success (for me or, probably, a writer in any genre), as follows:
- Readable Style: Regardless of the presence of other elements, the story must be easily read and digested. If it is dense, hard to follow, scattered, or otherwise not readily readable, it is not likely to succeed. Harlan Coben gets an A+ in this category, perhaps the best in the business. One endearing element of Coben’s style is an often, almost conversational dialogue as if he is narrating a story in his own words. This is certainly an element of creating an easily readable style.
- Early Hooking: The reader needs to be hooked by about the first 10 percent of the story, when the elements should have been established. In Missing You, it took longer for the hook to set, but once it did it was off to the races.
- Sympathetic Characters: Readers want and need to be able to identify with the lead character or characters in the story. Kat could be any of us, as could the victims of the ultimate crime spree. Heroism is found in many of the characters.
- Plot: The story needs to be intriguing. As noted, the storyline of Missing You is clever and engaging.
- Engaging: These elements need to be connected in a manner to make a page-turning bestseller.
- Emotion: Another element that is important to me as a writer is becoming involved in the emotions of the thriller characters. Frankly, most thrillers have little engagement with emotion, almost in the spirit of a James Bond character. Action, glitz, romance and suspense are all critical elements of a great story. For me, enjoying the emotion of the critical characters is the frosting on the cake. Coben does a fine job of exploring these emotions of Kat and the other critical characters.