Author: Harlan Coben
Online dating has plenty of potential for murder, such as the 2000 Mary Higgins Clark book "Loves Music, Loves to Dance" provided. But what if online dating was more than fodder for a serial killer, but a mechanism for tech savvy criminals to select their next victims and effectively make them dissapear with all their assets? Dead men tell no tales after all. Harlan Coben gives us a glimpse into how that might work, and it is frightening indeed.
Copyright: March 2014 (Dutton Adult) 400 pgs
Series: Stand alone
Sensuality: Language, violence
Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural/Suspense
Main Character: Kat Donovan, NYPD Detective
Setting: Modern day, New York city and rural
Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review
NYPD detective Kat Donovan is one of those women with plenty of baggage who never has a long-term relationship - damaged. Her best friend signs her up for an online dating site to help her out. Kat manages to find the profile of her ex-fiancé Jeff who left her 18 years ago (incidentally, right around the same time that her father was murdered.) Kat sends a message to Jeff, but he acts like he doesn't know who she is. That message to Jeff is seen by a young man, Brandon, who hacked his mother's online dating account to try and track his mother who disappeared with the man in the profile -- Jeff, Kat's ex. The youth tracks Kat down and convinces her to look into his mother's disappearance. But he has gotten a couple of text messages making it seem like she is okay and extending her vacation with Jeff. Nothing appears wrong on the surface. Kat pursues it because it is Jeff's profile and something doesn't add up. What she will uncover is a scary criminal enterprise that could have continued undetected for a long time, except for Jeff's profile on that dating site getting Kat involved.
A secondary plot line is Kat's father's murderer, Monte Leburne - a Cozone mob hit man, is dying and swears that inspite of his confessing to murdering her father that he actually didn't kill him. He was already getting life in prison for two other murders that he freely admits to doing, but confessed to killing her dad, a cop, because it served a purpose and didn't really impact him since he already had life in prison. This sends Kat to look into the eighteen year old closed murder case of her father, putting her at odds with her captain.
Missing You is the title of a song by John Waite from the 80s and is a song Kat and her ex had a running joke about.
Kat Donovan is the damaged middle-aged heroine, a jaded and hardened cop who gets mushy over her 18 year dead relationship. There is a bit of implausibility in that sad paradox alone, but the writing makes it somewhat believable. I like Kat and was surprised this wasn't the first in a series, because she would be a good series character. Hint, hint. Charles (Chaz) Faircloth is Kat's partner from a wealthy family who lacks even a smidgen of class with his sexism. Money can't buy everything. His only redeeming quality is that he gets serious and has Kat's back when she needs it. Brandon Phelps is a University of Connecticut computer science student looking for his mother. He is a well done character that most would discount as crying wolf for attention. Dana Phelps, missing mother of Brandon, is the surprise breakout character of the book. Although her shining moment isn't until late in the book, she easily eclipses the other characters with her sheer guts and determination. Titus is the criminal master mind of the online-dating money/murder scheme and he is effectively portrayed as heartless and mercenary. Reynaldo, Titus' muscle, is a contradiction as ruthless killer while being devoted to his dog and Titus - realistic but mind boggling.
New York with O'Malley's Pub and the police precinct are well done with a sense of the overwhelming caseload homicide detectives face. The rural setting for the farm that the victims end up at is remote and chillingly mixes rural beauty with deathly isolation.
The plot uses online dating sites for crimes other than a lurking serial killer and is well done, the only weak link was hinging Kat's involvement on an ex who left eighteen years prior. Most people wouldn't care after that long had passed. But all it took was her sending one message and a computer savvy son to track Kat down and convince her something was suspicious. In that aspect it was more believable. The scam itself is very realistic and makes me wonder if there was a basis in reality for the idea. The climax was heart-pounding and had me fully vested. The wrap-up was perhaps a little too perfect, even a foregone conclusion. That is not a bad thing necessarily in this case. With that said, I would really enjoy another Kat Donovan novel from Mr. Coben. Just saying.
Rating: Excellent - Loved it! A good suspenseful novel with a few slight hiccups in an otherwise well executed book.