Book Review: Win by Harlan Coben
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of Windsor Horne Lockwood III
Publisher: Hardcover: Grand Central Publishing | Audiobook: Brilliance Audio (March 16, 2021)
Length: 375 pages | 10 hrs and 35 mins
Audiobook Narrator: Steven Weber
Well, this was a fun one! I will preface this review by saying this was my first Harlan Coben, so the character of Windsor Horne Lockwood III was completely new to me along with the Myron Bolitar books, which this new series spun off from. I’ve always wanted to read this author’s books though, and figured this would be a perfect time and place to jump on board.
The best friend and once sidekick to former basketball star turned sports agent and ”accidental detective” Myron Bolitar, Windsor Horne Lockwood III, AKA Win, now takes center stage in his own mystery novel as he takes the reins on the case. And believe me, he has an interesting way of doing things. If you’re a longtime fan, I guess you already know this, but for a newcomer like myself, learning all about this guy was quite the whirlwind. For one, he’s richer than Scrooge McDuck and unironically compares himself to Batman, not only from the “I’m a mysterious, brooding, kick-ass vigilante” angle, but also noting that for people like him and Bruce Wayne, money is their superpower. While he may not have a superhero persona, Win does show different sides of himself when he’s with different people: a soft and flighty yet charming gentleman when he’s our in the public eye, for instance, but a cold, calculating and ruthless opponent when faced with his enemies. He’s also well-connected and has no moral qualms about pressing those connections or turning to less-than-ethical means to achieve his goals, which is how in this first novel of his new series, our eponymous protagonist winds up on the trail to track down the whereabouts of a group of fugitive bombers from the sixties known as the Jane Street Six.
But of course, Win probably wouldn’t have been so invested if he didn’t have a personal stake. As the story begins, he is summoned by the FBI to a penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side where its reclusive hoarder resident has just been found murdered. Soon, Win finds out why he is a person of interest. In the middle of all the mess, agents had found two items belonging to his family, including a priceless Vermeer painting that was famously reported stolen from the Lockwoods years ago, as well as a leather suitcase bearing his initials, WHL3. But as pleased as he is to have finally located the lost painting, it is the presence of the suitcase that has Win rattled, for it also has a history. Two decades ago, his cousin, heiress and philanthropist Patricia Lockwood, was kidnapped from her family estate. After killing her father, the attackers had told the then sixteen-year-old to pack that very same suitcase before taking her to an isolated shack in the woods, where she was subjected to unspeakable violence and abuse. Eventually, Patricia managed to break her chains and escape, but her captors were never found, and the fate of her suitcase also remained unknown…until now.
Could the deceased resident of that penthouse have been one of Patricia’s abductors? If so, the case just became even more startling and muddled when the dead man is identified as Ry Strauss, linked to an FBI cold case involving a deadly bombing in the sixties. Four men and two women, called the Jane Street Six, were wanted in connection to a Molotov cocktail attack which caused the accidental death of innocent bystanders. Part of a radical hippie network, the six of them immediately went underground following the incident, and the authorities have been trying to track each one down since, especially their charismatic leader, Strauss, who now may or may not be implicated in the theft of the Vermeer and the abduction of Patricia as well. This is why Win has been tasked to find out more, recruited by a friend and former FBI agent who also has reason to want answers.
After reading Win, I can see why Harlan Coben is considered a top mystery-thriller writer and why his books are bestsellers. This one was a prime example of excellent and compelling storytelling, juggling a number of side plots and branching threads, but as ever the focus remained laser sharp with no words wasted. The story itself is fast-paced, compulsive, and smartly edgy—and somehow Coben manages it all with effortless style and ease. I was amazed at the way everything came together, given the jumble of different cases and the complex web of characters and motives involved. It is only in the hands of an experienced author like him that a mystery with so many disparate strands and moving parts can be coherently narrated like this and be resolved so meticulously.
But for all that, I do have a couple criticisms, and it goes back to the main protagonist of Win. While Myron Bolitar fans have had the advantage of getting to know him as a secondary character through about a dozen novels over two decades, this was my first introduction to him, and let’s just say I believe he’s something of an acquired taste. Considering how descriptions of him have ranged from anti-hero to downright psychopathic, I think I’m being kind. Win is arrogant, pretentious, hypocritical, and obnoxious. He’s also completely unapologetic and shameless about it. While some protagonists can make that work for them, I spent much of the book wishing someone would come along and take this snooty, condescending rich asshole down a notch, because there were honestly times where being in his head made me feel gross and dirty. That said, he is not without some good qualities, and I guess I can see his appeal if you’ve had prior experience with him as a sidekick. Letting him take the lead for an entire novel, however, was a bit trying.
Still, in the end I read Win for the mystery and thrills, and I got both in spades so all in all I am a happy camper. I’m also glad I finally got to read a Harlan Coben novel, and I can promise you this will not be the last time I pick up his work. I may even check out the next Windsor Horne Lockwood III book if he continues developing this series, because that’s just how much I loved the storytelling (though hopefully he’ll find a way to make Win’s character a little less unpalatable). I was also fortunate enough to receive an audio copy for review, and it was once again a pleasure to listen to renowned actor and voice-over artist Steven Weber’s stellar performance as narrator. He was fantastic and believable as Win, giving his personality the weight it deserves, and also diligent in providing the voices and accents of other characters. Overall, a cracking good listen.