If Harlen Coben ever features a high-speed chase in one of his thrillers, I fully expect it would involve a minivan.
With his twist-laden suspense novels, Coben has become the master of suburban noir, finding paranoia, death and conspiracy in a setting where the biggest worry tends to be whose turn it is to bring the snack for the soccer game.
Just one look at his latest plot -- which involves a mob boss, assorted cops, cons and killers and even a washed-up one-hit-wonder rock singer -- might lead one to the wrong conclusion that this is just another preposterous bestseller.
However, Coben's real strength is in putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances -- unlike, say, fellow bestselling author James Patterson, whose characters' actions clearly identify them as denizens of Thriller Land.
Other than her 15 minutes of fame as an injured survivor of an infamous stampede at a rock concert that killed several others, Grace Lawson is a typical suburban mom. It is on one of her routine errands -- picking up family pictures at the Photomat -- that her life is turned upside down.
Included with the photos of the family's annual trip to the apple orchard is a picture of several young adults in '80s garb and hair. One of the young men resembles Jack, her husband. A yellow X has been drawn across the face of a pretty blonde woman.
When Grace shows Jack the strange picture, he denies it's of him and says she should return it to the Photomat. That night he leaves, making an excuse about having to work late, and never returns.
The cops refuse to take her seriously, since Jack is old enough to leave if he wants to, and they have no evidence of foul play -- until dead bodies start showing up around the places Jack's toll booth EZ Pass has recorded him passing.
Meanwhile, a parole hearing for the man convicted of starting the stampede at the rock concert has brought mobster Carl Vespa back into Grace's life. Vespa's son was trampled at the concert, and while many in the survivor's family group have glommed onto Grace as a way to hang onto the past, Vespa is the most persistent.
With nowhere else to turn, Grace accepts Vespa's help to find Jack and protect her family, despite her trepidation. But when it turns out that Jack's estranged sister is representing the accused stampede instigator at his parole hearing and casting doubt on the evidence of his conviction, Vespa begins to view the whole Lawson family with suspicion.
Added to the mix are a federal prosecutor on a personal vendetta, the lead singer from the ill-fated rock group making a return under a new name in a Christian rock band, and a North Korean-trained killer with a mysterious motive.
Few of us lay awake nights worrying that a North Korean-trained hit man is coming after us. Coben ratchets up the suspense by playing universal fears like "Just how well do I know this person I've trusted my life with?" Since no one can read another's mind, a certain amount of trust is based on faith, no matter how close and how secure the relationship, and Coben's thrillers exploit that uneasiness.
The less ordinary aspects of the plot have echoes in reality, too. With survivor and victim groups banding together and getting as much camera time on the news as possible, Coben explores the notion of whether it's healthy for grief and rage to be a tie that binds over a long period of time.
"Just One Look" continues Coben's winning streak. Readers who discover him for the first time here will definitely want a look at his previous work. Like potato chips, they won't be satisfied with just one book.