Bad Bestseller of the Week

Just One Look by Harlan Coben (Signet, $7.99)

All of Coben's novels have punchy, one-syllable-word titles like the above, but considering the outlandish coincidences this plot-boiler relies on, perhaps a better one would have been Out the Ass. Years after she was almost killed at a concert (which featured the imaginatively-named Jimmy X Band), a woman's husband disappears, leading her to encounters with hit-men, government agents, and mob bosses. By the end, everyone reveals their improbable secrets, and as you read the last few dozens pages, you can almost see Coben pulling it out with both hands. 

(Besides plotting, he also sucks at characterizations-- his heroes come from TV commercials and his bad guys are from direct-to-video movies-- and his dialogue is almost as real-sounding as Dean Koontz's.)

The most striking thing about the book, though, is its almost complete lack of sex and profanity. Last week's Bad Bestseller, Night Time is My Time by Mary Higgins Clark, was also singled out for its G-rated qualities. But Clark writes books like the ones she enjoyed as a girl, over 100 years ago-- chaste who-done-its with virginal heroines. Coben, however, is supposedly writing about grittier stuff, so it seems even odder that the only four-letter word used (once) in the book is spelled "f***ing." Are today's big-selling writers being edited by Wal-Mart? 

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