06/13/2024

Some Crim

Track the Untold Stories

Why Harlan Coben Decided Now Was the Time to Bring Back a Beloved Character

Why Harlan Coben Decided Now Was the Time to Bring Back a Beloved Character

Sometimes authors mine their own hallowed grounds, looking to the past in search of today’s treasures.

In that spirit, #1 New York Times bestselling wordsmith Harlan Coben presents the long-awaited return of one of his most beloved characters in Think Twice (May 14, 2024; Grand Central).

Former sports agent turned lawyer Myron Bolitar—who investigates crimes with his billionaire best friend, Windsor Horne Lockwood III (better known as “Win”)—hasn’t graced the pages of a book since 2016. With the series currently in development for television, it would seem an opportune moment for his revival. But the truth isn’t nearly as calculated as the timing might suggest.

“I just kind of missed Myron,” Coben—who usually abides by the notion that premise precedes player—says. “I usually start with an idea … and then I ask myself: ‘Who tells the story?’”

While such musings once resulted in the character’s creation in the first place (in 1995’s Deal Breaker), they also led to his being sidelined when a diversionary hook took hold of the author: What if a grieving husband received an email containing a hyperlink to a video feed that shows his wife walking by a webcam eight years after her supposed murder? 

“I loved the idea!” Coben remembers. “But of course Myron didn’t have a wife who died … so Myron couldn’t tell that story.”

Instead, Dr. David Beck headlined 2001’s Tell No One, which was nominated for the Anthony, Macavity, Edgar, and Barry Awards and turned into an award-winning French film, Ne le Dis à Personne—America’s top box office foreign-language draw the year of its domestic release. 

“And from there I was free of Myron for the next six or seven books,” Coben says. Instead, he penned a series of standalone novels—including Gone for Good, No Second Chance, Just One Look, and The Innocent—that have found new life on the small screen.

Bolitar, Win & Co. would eventually return in 2006’s Promise Me. Coben has since made a habit of alternating series and singular titles, even introducing Myron’s nephew, Mickey Bolitar, as the protagonist of a YA franchise (which currently includes three books and the Amazon Prime series Shelter).

Still, it’s been eight long years since Myron appeared in Home, seemingly finding closure through marriage at book’s end. And while the author has gotten increasingly busy with the creation and development of multiple streaming projects for Netflix (in addition to maintaining a book a year publishing schedule), the comfort of familiarity proved irresistible.

“The world is not in a great place right now and I thought, wouldn’t it be kind of fun to go back and try to write those books that combine a character you love with a gripping mystery?” Coben recalls. “And so I just thought the marriage of both during this time would be something fun to try.”

While Myron’s resurrection doesn’t test the laws of mortality, the same can’t necessarily be said for his former basketball and romantic rival turned frenemy, Greg Downing. Long thought dead—Myron eulogized him, after all—Downing’s DNA turns up at a recent crime scene, leading the FBI to suspect he’s very much alive and somehow connected to a string of “solved” murders that now appear to be linked.

“That was part of the challenge. How could someone get away with it?” Coben says, acknowledging that technology and surveillance have made it increasingly difficult to avoid detection. “One of the things that got this novel off the ground was that I had read an article [stating] that there are actually fewer serial killers now than ever before because it’s so hard not to get caught.”

Enter the “Setup Serial Killer”—a person, or persons, unknown, whose work has gone largely unnoticed by virtue of their ability to frame others for their crimes so convincingly that subsequent arrests and convictions are pretty much a given. 

It’s a premise as chilling as it is contemporary, and one that took the author out of his comfort zone.

“I often pride myself on writing what I swear I’d never write,” Coben admits. “One of the things I’ve always said … is that I don’t write serial killer books. I’m not a serial killer guy. I don’t like serial killer books particularly.”

So when the idea of just such a killer took hold, Coben found himself pondering some oft repeated advice: Write the book you’d want to read.

“How could I write one that I would like?” he asked himself, knowing the task would be made more difficult by modernity. “It’s always a question of how do I use this new technology … to make an interesting story? How can I use that as a challenge rather than a detriment?”

Then, the answer came: a comingling of elements—the new with the old, technology with tradition, fresh circumstances for familiar characters. It was a solution fitting of the series’ continued evolution, in which the books are as much about the players’ lives as the cases they investigate.

“For Myron, the stakes are almost always personal,” Coben says. “It’s never mired in solving a crime for somebody else the way a cop or even a private detective would. It always affects his personal life. And this one in particular takes on a whole new direction.”

Indeed, in Think Twice, the knowledge that Greg Downing—who was once married to Myron’s first love, and raised the illegitimate son that Myron fathered as his own—may not only be alive but somehow implicated in a double homicide leads Myron on a cross country search for truth, the consequences of which hit uncomfortably close to home. 

“At the end of the day, the one overriding thing I try to do with these novels … is relationships,” Coben offers, in reminder that home is often where the heart—and hurt—is. “If somebody asked me what the Myron and Win series is really about …it’s about friendship,”

While Myron and Win’s bromance gives the saga its beating heart, they’re bolstered by a colorful cast of co-workers, lovers, friends, and family; loving depictions of the latter stem from Coben’s adoration and reverence for his parents, who both died young. 

“I never got to see my parents age … so this is actually a sort of imagined alternate universe,” he confesses, noting that the dynamic has resonated with readers. “What Myron goes through with his parents is often what I imagined I would be going through had my parents survived.” 

Now retired to Florida (where else?), the Bolitars enjoy regaling Myron with stories of their sexual escapades, which have been enhanced by the use of edibles. These long-distance phone calls add some comic relief —though the physical distance also exposes unexpected vulnerabilities.

“I think the most harrowing scene in this book, without giving anything away, involves Myron and his parents,” Coben says. “And that’s because hopefully you care about these people, and you care about their relationships.”

The author—heralded as “the modern master of the hook and twist” by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code)—draws on this sense of connectedness to maximize tensions and devise closings that often manage to shock readers while also delivering a more sustaining satisfaction. 

“More important for me—as I get older, especially—is that I want the ending to not only surprise you in terms of whodunit, but I need the emotional impact,” he says. “It’s one thing to stir your mind and your pulse, but if [the twist] doesn’t stir your heart … then you’re not going to feel it.”

It’s telling, then, that thirty-five years (and as many books) into a blockbuster career, Harlan Coben considers Think Twice’s “nobody’s gonna see it coming” ending one of his very best. 

“If you think of all the great movies you’ve seen, or all the great books you’ve read … there was always an emotional component to them,” he says. “I think that’s where the gold lies.”

Which is why readers continue to sift through his stories in eager anticipation of the riches they’ll find there.