Here we go again: same old 'thrills'

I have said before in these pages that some thriller writers who start out well, all too soon find themselves in a trap, hidebound by the parameters that they have drawn for themselves.

This is most apparent with writers who have a regular cast of characters, whose foibles and general mishegassen have to be explained from book to book.

If you start out with a 35-year-old glamorous redhead, for example, with a bad cigarette habit and a Malcolm Tucker-esque vocabulary, as one of your principals, then you are more or less obliged to reintroduce her in every book.

Accordingly, the reader's tolerance for these literary glyphs - well, this reader's, anyway - sinks lower with every book.

Harlan Coben's latest outing, Caught (Orion, £18.99), comes with a strapline of admiration from the Daily Mail on the front cover, taking a rather more positive view of the thriller writer's "consistent" qualities than I have and thereby making my heart sink even before one I had opened the novel.

But at least, I thought, this is one of Coben's stand-alone thrillers, not one of his formulaic Myron Bolitar series. Coben's single-issue books are invariably better than his series.

In this one, we meet a reporter, Wendy Tynes, who has made a decent career out of naming and shaming paedophiles and sexual predators on her TV show, Caught in the Act. But her most recent target, Dan Mercer, turns out not to be what Wendy thinks he is. It's not long before she is fired and…oh, no, can this be true? Is Coben really chutzpahdik enough to helicopter in some of the most irritating characters from his Myron Bolitar repertory company? Yes, he is.

Here is his miracle lawyer, Hester Crimstein; Myron's evil aristo mate, Windsor "Win" Horne Lockwood III, with his trade-mark, irritating habit of answering the phone with the command: "Articulate"; and, back for one more performance, Myron's old girlfriend, Terese Collins.

Not only does it not stand alone, it barely stands up.

    Last updated: 11:32am, May 6 2010