After enjoying Harlan Coben’s latest novel Hold Tight, I decided to go back to the beginning (well, almost) of the author’s career and read some of his earlier works. The volume I picked up was Deal Breaker, the first of the Myron Bolitar series and the third Coben book overall.
Having essentially read these books back to back, it was easy for me to see the way the author’s style has changed — and remained the same — from the two different points in his career. And while I ended up liking Hold Tight quite a bit more than Deal Breaker, I still have high hopes for the rest of Coben’s novels.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Myron Bolitar is a 30-something sports agent who doesn’t have a single star athlete in his stable. That’s going to change soon, however, as Myron’s latest client, quarterback Christian Steele, was the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL. That means a multi-million dollar contract with the Titans for Steele, and a hefty payday for Bolitar. If, that is, the mysterious disappearance of Steele’s girlfriend Cassie Culver doesn’t turn into a deal breaker.
Christian and Cassie dated for a few years in college and were the top couple on campus. Then one night two years prior to the main action of the story, Cassie disappeared from school. The only evidence investigators found were a pair of Cassie’s panties — stained with semen that didn’t match Christian’s DNA. As time went by and no one heard from Cassie, it was assumed that she either ran away or was murdered.
But now, Christian, the Titans owners, and the dean of the Christian and Cassie’s alma mater all received copies of a porn magazine showing Cassie’s picture. What did this mean? Could she possibly still be alive? If so, why not contact them directly?
Myron genuinely likes Christian (and of course wants to get his six-figure commission), so he decides to work the case. With the help of friend Windsor Horne Lockwood III (“Win”), Myron starts looking into Cassie’s disappearance in earnest. Working backward from the ad, Myron and Win uncover a tangled web of deceit, lies, adultery, a brutal gang rape, and more en route to solving the mystery.
My Reaction: It seemed that Coben had a chance to turn Myron Bolitar into a really interesting character, but somehow lost his way in the middle of the book. At first, I was looking forward to getting an inside look at the life of a sports agent, since my knowledge of that profession is limited to what I’ve gained after multiple viewings of Jerry Maguire. But there’s very little wheeling and dealing in the book, as most of the plot deals with the Cassie Culver disappearance. In other words, Myron might as well have been a doctor or a lawyer (or even a plumber, for that matter), which was disappointing.
In addition, while I appreciated Myron’s smartass demeanor at the beginning of the book, his constant wisecracking began to feel tiresome and forced by the midway point, and became downright distracting by the end. There’s no way that anyone would toss off one-liners in absolutely every situation, even when he’s looking down the barrel of a gun, so I really disliked Coben’s dogged determination to make Myron crack jokes no matter what the situation. It would have been far more realistic for Myron to be scared — or at least a bit nervous — every once in a while. Plus, it didn’t help that several of the other characters were smartasses as well. I couldn’t distinguish between them after a while, and that’s never a good thing.
Fortunately, the plot itself was well thought out, tightly woven, and interesting all the way through. Coben had me guessing about what happened to Cassie, as well as the identity of the culprit, all the way up to the reveal. When all of the details came to light, everything made sense and was actually believable.
Overall, Deal Breaker was a decent read. I’ve heard that the Myron Bolitar series gets better as it goes along, so I’m looking forward to tackling some of the subsequent titles. Hopefully the character issues get worked out as the series progresses!