Harlan Coben: the king of thrilling page-turners

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First aired on George Stromboulopoulos Tonight (29/3/12)


Harlan Coben is the undisputed master of domestic suspense, ingenious plot twists and heart-stopping thrillers. He's also a publishing sensation. His last four thrillers (Live Wire, Caught, Long Lost and Hold Tight) each debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. There are more than 50 million copies of his books in print and his work has been translated into 41 languages around the world. He has critical cred too: Coben was the first author to win all the major awards for mystery writers, the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony. Not bad for a guy who grew up picking a basketball over a book. Coben is back on the bestsellers list with his latest novel, Stay Close, a riveting story about redemption, murder and the dark side of the American dream.

Coben grew up in suburban New Jersey, and it's the setting for many of his stories. Coben sees suburbia as "the battleground of the American dream." People choose the suburbs because they are slow-moving and safe, a great place to raise a family and build a home. But the suburbs can't protect good people from bad things. "It's where we go to live our life and do right and raise our kids," Coben explained to George Stroumboulopoulos in a recent interview. "But wrong still seems to find us." It's in these crevices that Coben finds his book ideas.

Another important component to Coben's writing is discovering the light in the dark places he goes. Each of his books has the same important element -- that of hope. He tends to write about disappearances, and not murder, for that very reason. "With disappearance you have hope," he said. "Hope can be the most wonderful thing in the world or it can crush your heart like an eggshell. I think that's what people find compelling."

After 22 books, multiple movie deals and a string of bestselling novels, one would think that writing would get easier. According to Coben, it doesn't. "It's never easy," he said. "It's constantly torturous, I constantly have self-doubt. I constantly hate myself. I constantly think I stink." His writing process can be chaotic. The end products are polished, tight stories about domestic suspense, but Coben assures readers they don't start that way.

"A novel is like a sausage. You might like the final taste but you don't want to see how it was made."