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Review: Harlan Coben's 'Caught' resonates with contemporary themes

Families are fraught with drama, misunderstandings and treacherous behavior — all because of the people we love, or should love, the most. Harlan Coben's family thrillers touch us where we live, exploring emotions and fears that are quite believable. For many, a private detective novel or a police procedural is akin to fantasy, but Coben's stories are grounded in reality.

Coben's eighth family thriller — his 17th novel — continues his high standards. Caught works as a personal story about families and as a cautionary tale about parents manipulating their children in a media-savvy world that can mean loss of privacy and quick judgments. Caught also is a taut thriller that doesn't let go until the last page.

We've all seen those "catching a predator" shows in which a sleazy man walks in the door, planning to have sex with an underage boy or girl with whom he has been in touch on the Internet. The man's very presence suggests guilt. But what if the man was innocent, and he has come not for sex but to rescue a child he thinks is in danger?

That's why social worker Dan Mercer has come to a strange neighborhood in the middle of the night. Dan, who works with troubled teens, thinks he's come to save a 13-year-old from sexual abuse.

Instead, he has been set up by television reporter Wendy Tynes, whose program Caught in the Act exposes sexual predators. But Dan is no pedophile and, unlike most of the men who stick around to talk to the camera, he runs. Still, Dan is believed guilty, especially because a 17-year-old girl recently disappeared from his New Jersey neighborhood.

To say more would spoil the amazing twists and turns that Coben brings to his plot. Caught shows the intimate machinations of families and how the smallest action can have ramifications. Coben has a knack for quickly moving his story from quiet domesticity to sheer terror and then back. At times, the insight that Coben brings can bring a reader to tears. But he supplies the thrills as well as the entertainment factor.

Caught

By Harlan Coben

Dutton, 416 pages, $27.95

Review: Harlan Coben's 'Caught' resonates with contemporary themes 04/10/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 4:49pm]

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