Title: Six Years
Paperback: 358 pages
Publication Date: 27/02/14
The one thing that has always set Harlan Coben’s thrillers apart is his ability not only to create an original and compelling premise, but also to maintain that premise to its conclusion. All too often novels in this genre have clever, intriguing set-ups, but end in a manner that feels forced or leaves the reader dissatisfied – suggesting that the author was unable to find a suitable means of resolving the twists and turns that have evolved throughout the preceding pages. And so there is always a certain degree of in-built scepticism – certainly on my part – when beginning a book in this genre.
In Six Years the novel’s hook revolves around a promise. Six years ago (unsurprisingly, given the title!) college professor Jake Fisher watched the love of his life, Natalie, marry another man (and only a day after she had dumped poor old Jake). And for six years he has kept his promise to Natalie and stayed away from her and her husband (which I would probably find pretty easy if I had been dumped and replaced in such ignominious circumstances, but then I’m not a big old romantic like Jake!). But when Jake sees an obituary for Natalie’s husband, he can’t keep his promise any more. But at the funeral Jake discovers a different grieving widow in Natalie’s place. And no-one seems to know anything about Natalie. Of course, and thankfully for the reader, as otherwise the novel would be no more than a handful of chapters – ! – Jake sets out to unravel the mystery…
As a premise it is undoubtedly both clever and intriguing. As a reader, you want to know who this other woman is, and indeed, whether Jake himself is an entirely reliable narrator. The pace is always quick and the twists and turns and revelations come thick and fast. Allied to this, the prose avoids unecessary flowery, artistic flair – it is certainly more on the functional side, but this works well in keeping the pace high and the pages turning. Which probably works to the novel’s advantage. Because it allowed me to overlook a few slightly unlikely twists and coincidental happenings that allowed the plot to continue moving.
And at the heart of the novel is Jake Fisher, a likeable and decent everyman hero (well, if every man was six-foot-five and built like a line-backer – a fact that we are told a little too often, inasmuch as it became a little repetitive). But he does provide humour and an emotional touchpoint – as the only time that we get to see anything of Natalie is her breaking Jake’s heart, so we are very much reliant on empathising with him and thus buying into his love for her. And that he would be willing to face danger and potential death in order to investigate the dark and deadly secret that drives the plot forwards.
For a thirty-five-year-old professor there were a few times when Jake felt quite a bit older in his speech and mannerisms, and it was a little cliched that he was a handsome and dashing college professor (although this was acknowledged and played up to very early on in the novel with a reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark).
And as mentioned previously, coincidence, along with a magically disappearing / reappearing iPhone, do play slightly problematic roles in the book. Furthermore, if you have read any of Coben’s oeuvre before then you will have a pretty good notion as to the novel’s outcome – if not necessarily as to the manner in which this will come about. But these are mere quibbles in the grand scheme of the book. Once I was snared in by the opening chapter there was no way that I was going to stop until I had finished – and I read the book in one sitting.