Just One Look (2004)

Just One Look is the eleventh novel by author Harlan Coben. It is a thriller which hooks you in, and has as many twists and turns as a labyrinth. The opening hook is when a Jersey suburban mom finds an old photo in with her newly developed prints that shows her younger husband, and several friends. Discovering the origin of the image, and the identities of the friends comprises the plot of this book.

This compact novel weighs in at 370 pages, but it reads like a longer work. The prose is well crafted with lots of specific details, and vibrant action words. The author also uses short chapters that remind me of a Dan Brown novel. However, I've read novels that are substantially longer that read easier, flow more smoothly, and aren't nearly as much of a chore to plow through.

Given the basic ingredients, I generally like this type of thriller/conspiracy novel- however, I didn't. To begin with, for a tight compact novel there are simply too many characters. I had trouble keeping them all straight and found myself trying to remember all of them as I read along. Additionally as the work progresses, we find out about relationships between seemingly unrelated characters. Rather than being shocking, most of the time they seem contrived, and artificial like they were put in for shock value intentionally, rather than significantly enhancing the plot.

While there are several medical advisors acknowledged at the end, much of the anatomical details, and health care was more fantasy than reality. For example, no one, and I mean no one, tapes or wraps fractured ribs anymore. Maybe it's just me, but when the medicine is off, I start to wonder about the rest. Also the descriptions of pressure points are about as realistic as Superman succumbing to kryptonite; in other words the science is very suspect.

In the end, I would characterize Just One Look as a beach thriller. It is a novel that is fine for losing oneself in for an afternoon or two, but don't expect anything more. When it comes to this reviewer's eyeballs, there are plenty of authors I'd rather read. Of course if Mr. Coben wants to hire me as a medical advisor that's another story altogether.

Overall Grade: C+

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