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29 may 2013
The Innocent is part wrong-man novel and part homme traqué novel: the problem is that the protagonist, Matt Hunter, isn't quite sure whether he's the wrong man or not. He may deserve his persecution. In fact, one of Harlan Coben's themes seems to be that deserve it or not, everybody really is persecuted all the time. Only the profoundly oblivious get to ignore it.
Matt is an ex-con, but he's a good guy, if a little prison-hardened. His crime was to kill a young man in an icy, drunken college brawl. But since his release, he's forged a career as a paralegal, married his soulmate, and is fixing to buy a house in the North Jersey bedroom suburb where he grew up – hitting the reset button on the American Dream.
And then Matt and his wife Olivia buy "camera phones." These cutting-edge items of 2005 technology allow them to send pictures to each other while they're traveling on business. Unfortunately they also allow ruthless murderers to hack in and send vile photos and videos of lurid sexual encounters, leading Matt down a rabbit hole where he finds a dead ex-stripper nun, an FBI agent gone bad, a bouncer-turned-killer-for-hire, a retired cop bent on supplementing his pension with blackmail, and other features of the Harlan Coben universe.
The Les Misérables aspects of The Innocent, plus its keen social observation of a number of East Coast milieus, make a bid for major-fiction status. What keeps The Innocent from succeeding at the Great American Novel game is its baroque plot and its penchant for unbelieveable coincidence: as if Charles Dickens had set about imitating James Ellroy. But it will keep you reading.
Coben, Harlen. The Innocent. New York: Dutton [Penguin], 2005.