Author’s Journal | Pen Date 1.24.22
TW: Language, Sexual Violence, Violence, Victim Shaming, Death
If you’re not familiar with Harlan Coben, you might be living under a rock
To be fair! I was myself, until a fortunate namedrop in Stephen King’s The Outsider (2018).
Irrespective of my living situation, Coben’s publishing success spans back to 1990. However, it’s the lucrative five-year, 14-book deal inked with Netflix that seems to be raising his stock.
Now, Deal Breaker is not one of those books (yet), but it was his third published, and the first of eleven Myron Bolitar novels.
Crack the spine of this novel and instantly readers are dragged into the fierce negotiations of budding sports agent, Myron Bolitar. He’s currently in possession of the hottest commodity in sports, representation rights to the Top NFL Quarterback Prospect.
Myron Bolitar is what makes this book so good. That said, let’s take a hot sec to look at Mr. Bolitar.
He’s about as sarcastic as they come and is no stranger to self-deprecating humor. He often spouts lines that will coerce readers into genuine laughter. Somehow, he remains authentic despite the wit. Fortunately, a strong moral compass prevents him from being too obtuse.
|Back to the SYNOPSIS|
So, Myron’s got this QB, Christian “Hot Prop” Steele. Who needs Myron’s help. Badly.
He’s just received quite the risqué package. A copy of Nips magazine. Yeah, it’s what it sounds like. But a marked advertisement is what gets their attention. There, the pair see a nude photo of Christian’s missing, and presumed-dead, girlfriend – Kathy Culver.
Now, the Culvers are having a tough time. Kathy’s been missing 18 months. While the father, Adam, was robbed and murdered a month ago. Along with Christian, Kathy’s older sister, Jessica, believes Myron can help. Seeing as the pair used to date, she thinks Myron can find the link between her father’s death and Kathy’s disappearance.
Myron takes on a rather difficult balancing act. Negotiating the highest rookie contract in NFL history for Christian. Tracking down a phone sex operator. Uncovering a significant amount of adultery. All while catching threats from mob bosses and hitmen. Not exactly an empty plate.
With an abundance of wisecracks, and masterful wit, Coben develops a great supporting cast around Myron. Featuring Windsor Horne Lockwood, III (Win) and Esperanza Diaz. Win is the personification of old east-coast money and Arian good-looks. Add to that, he’s a privileged loose cannon, with a penchant for violence and a sixth-degree black belt to back it up.
Then there’s Esperanza, Myron’s assistant. Her former career as a Female Pro Wrestler ends up not only strengthening her character physically, but also gives her a personality that can hold up on its own.
In the end, these main actors must connect the dots to discover what happened to Kathy and Adam Culver. The crux, they’ve got to figure it out before Christian’s deal breaks down, and he ends up a tainted commodity.
The voice. It’s so engaging and witty! Myron is one of the most fun characters I’ve read in a while. Put Ryan Reynolds on the cover, and readers would understand exactly who they’re getting. A toned-down, less violent Deadpool. It makes for great dialogue even in the tensest of situations.
The mystery itself is gripping. Of course, any true-crime junkie is thinking it’s the boyfriend from the get-go. However, Coben masterfully redirects our attention toward other suspects, weaving characters in and out seamlessly. Things that seem very bland tend to follow the narrative rule.
If a writer included it. It’s there for a reason.
In the end, it’s Coben’s deft handling of the trigger/content warnings that I think may be this novel’s greatest achievement.
There’s some – unsettling – acts that take place in this book. But Coben’s protagonist is a progressive man. He’s open-minded, doesn’t victim-blame, and cares for the downtrodden in many ways. You’ll cringe at what happens, sure. But, not how it was written.
|The Bad| Let’s Talk About These Trigger Warnings
I don’t think it’s possible, in this day and age, to avoid warning readers about potentially triggering aspects of this novel, which is why I want to discuss them here.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS
*deep breath* okay, I can do this.
Coben comes in hard with this one.
But I’ve not read anything like it, and I earnestly believe it’s handled well. That said – it’s still done, so we should talk about it.
Sixteen/Seventeen/Eighteen (somewhere in there) -Year-Old Kathy Culver walks in on her father’s best friend committing adulterous acts with her own mother. Kathy’s vengeance is – well, it’s not good. It’s vengeful and disturbing.
Mind, she is still in high school.
“She became, in her own words, ‘a free-wheeling slut.’ She started with some boys in her high school class. But she quickly moved onto bigger things. Adults, teachers, friends of her parents. Biracial, homosexual, two-on ones, even orgies.”
The most unsettling and deeply saddening part?
She either took or made her partner(s) take photographs that she would then give to her mother.
“I wanted to destroy them. I wanted to burn them and pretend I’d never seen them. But I couldn’t. Kathy was punishing me. Keeping them was a form of penitence.”
Absolutely fantastic mothering. Rather than bringing the family together to help her teenage daughter through this crisis, Kathy’s mother shoves each photo into the attic, letting this girl continue her warpath of revenge. Guess she can rationalize continuing the affair that way.
That’s some god-awful parenting. Despite a handful of detestable characters in this novel, this mother is up there with being the absolute worst.
Thankfully, Kathy realizes that this is not the way.
“Her story began to change direction, . . . For the better. She said she realized what she was doing was wrong and stupid. She began, she said, to work through her problems. That was when she met Christian and fell in love. She wanted to put it all behind her, but it wasn’t easy. The past wouldn’t just go away. She tried and tried, and then . . .”
Then, she was blackmailed, extorted, and raped. The culprits – seven members of the football team. Christian’s teammates.
“She told me there was only one way to bury her past. Once and for all. She would have to confront it head-on. She’d have to push it out into the bright sunshine where it would wither and die like a medieval vampire.”
Rather than comfort her, the person she tells these things to, talks her down. Or at least they try to. They victim blame and refuse to stand by her. Alienating Kathy further. So, she goes to Christian.
I feel for Kathy as a character. Hoping she might be alive after all this seems less and less likely as things progress, but there are glimmers of hope until the very end.
The hardest part is that we never hear any of this from Kathy herself. Only through the lenses of other characters, can we tell Kathy is breaking down from the outside. But inside, we are left to wonder how deep her darkness, and her strength, go.
|The Ending| – I will spoil this book below.
The ending is – conventional.
Seriously. About to go FULL Spoil.
We’ve got Christian, who Kathy, in her most trying time, turns to for support and confidence. Except, rather than standing by her unconditionally, Christian becomes infuriated with the salaciousness of Kathy’s actions – even the rape. Absolute garbage person.
In anger, he kills Kathy and buries her body in the woods.
As is tradition – the boyfriend did it. In a mystery as big as this one, it’s a bit disappointing.
That said, Coben does an exceptional job throwing the scent elsewhere. But for the most part, ole “Hot Prop” Steele isn’t that likeable, and is someone true crime junkies never rule out.
I do enjoy the resolution of the mysterious magazine ad being a part of Adam Culver’s vigilante justice. It’s a strong B-plotline and draws the reader’s attention away from Christian.
This really is a chimera of a novel that I absolutely loved. Coben gives Myron a voice that is certainly tropey, but it’s fun and playful. There’s not a lot of characters like him and it gets us readers through this incredibly dark story.
That said, I think this is without a doubt a, “love-it” or “hate-it” book. These Trigger Warnings are genuine to the story, but that doesn’t make them any less unsettling.
Thankfully, we have Myron Bolitar.
He’s a high-stakes guy’s guy. I think it’s fair to say, he’s a bit of a d-bag. But he’s everyone’s favorite d-bag. Making him the perfect character to confront detestable antagonists with comedic flare and overconfidence.
That in mind, Deal Breaker readers are treated to a classic mystery with depth and modern stakes. It makes for a great read deserving of 4+ stars.
So, let’s call it five.
Now to get my hands on the sequel, Drop Shot.