Just One Look by Harlan Coben

April 21, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): When Grace Lawson picks up a newly developed set of family photographs, there is a picture that doesn’t belong–a photo from at least 20 years ago with a man in it who looks strikingly like her husband, Jack. And though Jack denies it, he disappears that night, taking the photo with him. Now, to save her family from a fierce, silent killer who will stop at nothing to get the photo, Grace must confront the dark corners of her own tragic past.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • This was a very tightly paced book. There was so much going on, but it was controlled chaos in the hands of thriller expert Coben.
  • I liked that Grace didn’t turn into some super sleuth when she set out to find Jack. In other books of this nature, the ordinary housewife suddenly develops incredible investigative skills and is able to make headway where the authorities cannot. I liked that Grace uncovered a few leads, but that she didn’t get a bead on Jack’s location all due to her own work. At least that part of the story felt believable.
  • I like the way Coben incorporates current technology in his books. What I mean is, characters frequently use Google, cell phones with a built-in barcode scanner, GPS navigation systems, and other gadget-y tools like that. It makes everything feel more modern and believable.
  • Eric Wu was a very creepy villain. It was scary that he liked to … incapacitate his victims rather than kill them outright. I didn’t like/buy everything about the character, but his M.O. was original.
  • I thought Charlaine was an excellent minor character. I loved how her thought processes worked, how she put herself into the position of a horror movie heroine before taking action. She considered what the dumb bimbos in horror movies would do, and then went and did the opposite. That was brilliant! The first scene at Freddy Sykes’s house where she got his spare key and considered going in to investigate turned out to be quite tense when Wu turned around and came back to the house. It was AWESOME that she had actually gone back to her own house and called the cops while Wu was searching for her at Freddy’s place.
  • I’m glad Jack died at the end. That seemed far more plausible than having him survive all the torment suffered at Wu’s hands.


  • I thought the ending was terrible. I’ve read enough Coben to know that somehow every character and plotline eventually ties together, so I was expecting a few twists during the reveal section. But, man, Coben just trotted out twist after twist that really had no rhyme or reason to them. Let’s see what I can remember off the top of my head: Wade LaRue didn’t actually fire the first shot; it was the security guard who was later hailed as a hero. Jack and the rest of the people in the photo were backstage at the Jimmy X concert on the night of the stampede, so Jack must certainly have known of Grace’s connection to that night. Jack and his friends were in a band that opened for Jimmy X, so they knew each other. Jimmy X stole a song from Allaw (Jack’s band) that became a massive hit. Sandy Koval was also there on the night of the concert. Eric Wu and Wade LaRue were cellmates. Jack was shot by the security guard after attacking Jimmy X. Annnd the two kickers, Jack wasn’t actually Jack, but was Shane Allworth. The real Jack died that night, but Shane changed his name and everything. Second, Grace had been at the concert with Shane and had a role in distracting the security guard so Allaw could sneak backstage. OMG, whatever!!!
  • Some of the violence was a bit too extreme for my tastes. I especially squirmed and cringed when Coben described how Wu dug his fingers into Grace’s knee and threatened to rip off her kneecap. Yikes. Needless to say, I started skimming whenever Wu went to work.
  • Many of the character motivations were a bit thin. I find it hard to believe that Wu went to all that trouble kidnapping and killing people just as a favor to his former cellmate. Yeah, criminals form “bonds” in prison, but that seemed way over the top to me. Wu acted like he was taking orders from some big shot, not from a peer. The whole situation just felt off.
  • The Scott Duncan connection felt forced. I realize the story needed an impetus, so using him as a way to get that picture inserted in the packet from the photomat was OK. But his later involvement felt totally extraneous.


Just One Look was an incredibly engrossing page-turner for about three-quarters of the book. But then once the twists and connections were revealed, believability went right out the window. The ending left such a bad taste in my mouth that I came away feeling this was an average novel at best. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

3 Responses to “Just One Look by Harlan Coben”

  1. I agree totally with your assessment of the ending.. a problem I have with the Grace charachter is this,, if she was backstage distracting the security guard, how did she get caught in the stampede in front of the stage? that was a loose end for me. I also didn’t understand completely who shot Larue, I mean was it Vespa? Why would Larue call Vespa after being let go from there? or Was it Sandra?

  2. Wu didn’t kidnap and kill all those people for Larue. Only Jack was for Larue. The rest he did for fun. Also, Grace wasn’t backstage distracting MacKenzie. And from what I understood, I don’t think she was fully aware of her roll as a distraction? I think she was just an unknowing pawn. But I think he purposely left that bit as a cliffhanger, neither confirming nor denying whether she was actually involved. It could be that Duncan just said that to make her not think about how he caused her husband’s death. (Probably for fear that if she did, she’d get Vespa/Cram to kill him.) I.E. he was just manipulating her again like he did with Cora and FuzzPellet.

    Re: Kasey- Sandra’s hit man killed Larue. Vespa let him go after he confessed because he realised that it wasn’t his fault after all. Larue called Vespa because he knew that he wanted revenge and would kill him as soon as he got out, so he wanted to tell him the truth so that he can live his life in peace.

  3. Who killed Geri? And why?

    Who killed LaRue.

    V confused by the end.

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