Harlan Coben's Tell No One

Harlan Coben’s mystery series featuring former college basketball star Myron Bolitar has won a number of awards – the Anthony and the Edgar for Deal Breaker, and the Shamus (Best Private Eye Novel) for Fade Away. Although these books have attracted a solid fan base, it is Coben’s stand-alone thrillers that have garnered a particularly impressive following. Tell No One (2001), Coben’s first novel in this genre, as Guttridge observes, is “a pulsing, pacy, devour-at-one-sitting thriller that . . . engendered a four-day bidding war in Hollywood” (Guttridge 2001).

The story begins with a night swim at an old haunt in celebration of a young couple’s anniversary. After Elizabeth emerges from the water, David realizes that it is too quiet. He calls her name, waits in silence, then hears her scream. David is hit by a baseball bat and falls unconscious into the water.

Fast forward eight years and David is now a widowed paediatrician who is unable to get past the death of his wife. On their anniversary, he receives a mysterious email containing clues that suggest his wife is alive. Events then begin to spiral out of control in this fast-paced, gripping narrative. “I don’t remember the last time I felt so driven to finish a novel,” admits St Petersburg reviewer, Jean Heller (2001). “And the final 30 pages, well, you’ll see.”

When David tells his sister Shauna that he thinks his wife is alive, she asks, “If Elizabeth was alive, where has she been for eight years? Why choose now of all times to come back from the grave – the same time, by coincidence, that the FBI starts suspecting you of killing her?” (102). Shauna believes that federal agents are playing “mind games” with David by sending him fake emails.

There is no one who enjoys playing mind games more than Harlan Coben: “I love to fool you once, I love to fool you twice, I love to fool you a third time,” he admitted in an interview with The Telegraph. “And just when you think it’s all over, I have what I call that Carrie hand-out-of-the-grave moment. Just when you think it’s all over, I’m going to hit you with just one more.”

What is the secret of his success? He told CBS news that for him a story must be compelling and gripping: “Every sentence has to be something people want to read. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said, ‘I try to cut out all the parts you’d normally skip’” (Gumbel 2001).

Coben creates his extraordinary narratives out of ordinary circumstances. As he himself claims:
“I don’t write the book where it’s a conspiracy reaching the prime minister; I don’t write the book with the big serial killer who lops off heads,” he says. “My setting is a very placid pool of suburbia, family life. And within that I can make pretty big splashes.”
Those who love suspense-filled psychological thrillers will not be disappointed in Tell No One.

“Author Harlan Coben Discusses His New Book, ‘Tell No One.’” Interview by Bryant Gumbel, CBS: The Early Show. June 19, 2001.

Coben, Harlan. Tell No One. New York: Dell, 2001.

Heller, Jean. “Tell No One.” St. Petersburg Times. June 17, 2001.