The Innocent by Harlan Coben

February 3, 2011

Plot summary (with spoilers): At the age of 20, Matt Hunter made the kind of mistake that can derail a life for good: He got into a fight at a college party and accidentally killed a man after they pushed each other off their barstools or something like that. He was subsequently found guilty of manslaughter, for which he had to serve four years in prison. Once he got out, he tried to make the best of his situation, but found that trying to live life as a convicted felon was a pretty rough deal.

Against all odds, however, Matt seemed to make it. He secured a pretty good paralegal position at a respected firm (he wanted to be a lawyer, but not with that record), and also managed to meet the perfect woman, Olivia, who barely even flinched when Matt told her of his past.

Now Olivia is pregnant with their first child and everything is looking up…until Olivia goes on an ill-fated business trip to Boston one weekend. That same weekend, Matt starts getting strange pictures and videos sent to his cell phone, ostensibly showing Olivia in a hotel room with another man. Matt simply can’t believe that she would cheat on him, so he contacts a private investigator his law firm works with, Cingle Shaker, and starts checking out Olivia’s story.

From there, the plot takes a number of unexpected twists, as it’s revealed that Olivia has a “colorful” history herself. Soon both Matt and Olivia are on the run from the law and a ruthless killer as they try to get to the bottom of what’s happening to them.


  • Coben is a good writer with a real talent for combining a number of different storylines into a coherent whole. I’ve read enough of his books by now to know that everything is relevant, so part of the fun is trying to figure out how all the characters and events are connected to each other.
  • I liked the part about Matt meeting with Joan Thurston (his victim’s mother) once a month at at museum. That was a nice touch that didn’t seem forced at all. I only wish Coben had let Mrs. Thurston help Matt when he needed it, instead of turning her back on him so coldly.


  • There were far too many coincidences in this story, the biggest one of which was Olivia’s daughter, given up for adoption at birth, ending up working as Matt’s sister-in-law’s nanny. Whatthefuckever. How positively eye-roll inducing… What was Coben thinking with that one???
  • The plot was pretty complicated and got hard to follow towards the end. I could barely keep track of who was double-crossing whom, which lessened the effectiveness of some of the later reveals. I guess this is as much my fault for not paying attention as it is Coben’s, but still, it’s something that must be mentioned.
  • Neither Matt nor Olivia were particularly likable characters. Matt had his moments, but I could never get on board with him 100 percent. Olivia was a lost cause from the start. If these two had been more likable, I perhaps would have enjoyed the book more.
  • Coben had an annoying tendency to jump around from storyline to storyline, leaving the reader hanging right when the action was starting to get good. But — he didn’t do this in a page-turning Da Vinci Code sort of way. He’d go from an exciting storyline to a boring one, which had the effect of making me put the book down because I didn’t want to have to slog through a whole chapter of dull crap in order to get back to the good stuff.


Overall, I’d have to say I was rather disappointed by The Innocent. Coben’s stellar reputation and my own good experiences with his work led me to expect much more out of this title. Unfortunately, it was bogged down by lots of boring parts, and featured far too many “Yeah, right” moments for my taste. I give this book just 2 stars out of 5.

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