The Innocent Summary
by Harlan Coben

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The Innocent

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The “Innocent” of Harlan Coben's title is Matt Hunter, an ordinary young man from New Jersey with a not so ordinary past. As a college student, Matt tried to break up a fight but ended up killing someone instead. Now an ex-con working as a paralegal, Matt believes that his luck has changed. He has reconnected with Olivia, a beautiful woman he knew in better times. The couple are expecting a baby and they are planning a dream home. But when Matt receives compromising pictures of Olivia and a strange man on his camera phone, his plans and what is left of his innocence disintegrate.

Along with Robert Ferrigno, Harlan Coben has emerged as a modern master of noir, the dark (literally “black”) genre in which violence, fate, and character—make that flawed character—intertwine. On one level Coben's convoluted plots are highly implausible, but on a deeper level they are the stuff of nightmare—irrational, arbitrary, and unrelenting. Coben plunges his readers directly into this nightmare, interweaving a handful of seemingly unrelated storylines that ultimately converge in a dramatic and violent conclusion. One involves Matt himself, another the murder of a nun who turns out to have breast implants, a third a desperate and underage girl from a foster home in Idaho. Most stretch back to what happened years ago at a Nevada strip club ingloriously named the Eager Beaver. Also involved are two bent FBI agents and a policewoman mourning the father she lost to suicide.

Coben juggles so many characters that some remain a blur, and as in many mysteries, the solution is less compelling than the mystery itself. Yet Coben's edgy prose and breakneck pacing carry the day, creating an irresistible thriller in The Innocent.