No Second Chance, by Harlan Coben, is a 2003 thriller. Yes, I am wandering over to another genre, as I sometimes do, although this is not that far removed from a romantic-suspense novel. More bodies (lots) and less sex (none), but the story arc is familiar.
“When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter.” Now that’s starting things off with a bang. After a few paragraphs of hazy recollections, Marc, a plastic surgeon, wakes up in ICU. His wife is dead, and his infant daughter is missing. Then a ransom note arrives. His wife’s family is wealthy, and has no problem putting up the two million. The note says not to tell the police, but he does. It’s hard to keep his activities secret when they are already investigating and consider him a suspect.
Marc delivers the ransom, but the kidnappers found out about the police. He does not get his daughter, and one suspect, his drug addicted sister, is found dead. Almost two years pass. A series of coincidences – or are they coincidences? – leads Marc to reconnect with his first love and meet an old classmate. Both have secrets, and that leads him to uncover some secrets about his wife. Then another ransom note arrives, in direct contradiction of the title. This time Marc thinks he is better prepared. He does not call the police, but relies on friends.
It’s a fun, fast paced read, heavy on action and light on character development. However, there is some depth in the explorations of how the various characters reached their current states. There is also some obvious messaging about how people we think we know may not be who we think they are, our assumptions about people we don’t know may not be correct, love can a powerful force for good or evil, and the guilty are not always punished. That’s all more reassuring than shocking, which is what I look for in genre fiction.
The writing style is a little odd. Most of the work is Marc narrating in first person, occasionally addressing the reader. However, there are some passages in third person omniscient, and some scenes overlap perspectives. The third person passages help build suspense, in part through their action, and in part through the character information they supply. At some level I think this is cheating, but perhaps justified by the number of plot twists. Eventually you realize that what is not being told is just as important as what is being told.
I was very good. I did not flip to the end to find out if he saw his daughter again, or who shot him and his wife. However, I did read the second half of the book in one sitting. Thank goodness it was a slow day at work.