Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Play Dead

I'm a fan of Harlan Coben, especially of Tell No One, and I reckoned audio books would be a good way to enjoy more of his work. as he is strong on both snappy dialogue and plot. I still think it's a good plan, but unfortunately I picked Play Dead, which he wrote when he was learning his craft. Coben warns the reader, very honestly, in a foreword, that this is a tyro effort, but I rather assumed this was simple modesty on his part.

In fact, there are good things in Play Dead - an intriguing set-up, and plenty of plot twists, for sure. A couple of newlyweds who seem to have it all have their lives turned upside down when the husband mysteriously disappears and is presumed drowned. But is he really dead? It seems not - so what is going on? For someone interested in the craft of writing, it's also quite intriguing to see an apprentice effort before a talented novelist got into his stride.

Regrettably, the downsides outweighed the upsides as far as I was concerned. Having gone to the trouble of undergoing plastic surgery, the missing man behaves so as to make it certain his secret will be found out. I waited patiently for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. And all the characters are either impossibly good-looking, impossibly talented or impossibly bad. If the story had been condensed into a couple of hours, it might have worked, but six hours was very heavy going.I didn't give up on it, but I did groan several times.

None of this affects my admiration for Coben at his best. But I'm not sure why he allowed this book to see the light of day. Trust me, my own first novel will remain unpublished, and a good thing too!


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for your candor. It is interesting to watch the way writers grow over time. Of course, as you say, sometimes that means not experiencing them at their best, and I've read novels like that, too. But I do find it interesting to watch their development. Of course, I say that confident in the knowledge that no-one will get the chance to read my first stories ;-).

Jennifer Lee Thomson, Jenny Thomson said...

I tried to read Play Dead and gave up. There was nothing wrong with the plot I felt, but the characters were too amazing and Dynasty like i.e. the most beautiful woman in the world and the hunky sports star. That's what put me off. I didn't care about them and that's why I didn't care what happened to them.

Character is key to me liking a book and wanting to read on. That means they should be human and not so perfect.

Max Henry said...

Martin, like you I was puzzled that HC allowed this early effort to be published. I think that if he believed there are fans who wanted to read it he should have put it on his website where it could be read F.O.C. I expect many of the disappointed readers that bought Play Dead will not be buying future Harlan Coben titles. That includes me.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, you are right, that is the merit of the book, the insight it affords into a developing talent.
Jennifer, I agree about the perfection of the leads in the story!
Max, a free online publication of early work is a very good idea.