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In Coben’s latest, love story turns into a thriller

Harlan Coben has mastered the family thriller in which ordinary people are caught up in an out-of-control situation, à la Alfred Hitchcock. This approach has landed most of Coben’s 24 novels on best-sellers’ lists.

In “Six Years” (Dutton), it isn’t a family that is under siege, but one man who becomes embroiled in a virulent situation. And while “Six Years” is certainly a thriller, it also is as much a love story. “Six Years” starts slowly, making one wonder how Coben, a 1984 graduate of Amherst College, can pull a thriller out of a lovesick college professor mooning over the woman who got away. But trust Coben to pull his usual twists, careening the action from one wild ride to the next, and spinning a crafty plot.

Six years ago, Jake Fisher attended the wedding of Natalie, the love of his life. They had only recently broken up when Natalie announced she was marrying Todd, her old boyfriend. After the wedding, Natalie makes Jake promise that he will forget her and never try to contact her again. Six years pass and, while Jake has kept his promise, he has never been happy despite heading the political science department of the small Lanford College in Massachusetts. Then Jake sees the obituary for Natalie’s husband, but when he attends the funeral, he learns that Todd had been married for more than 20 years and that the widow isn’t Natalie.

So what happened to Natalie? Finding her isn’t easy. The friends they had when they were a couple don’t remember Jake, nor does Natalie’s sister. And the place where they met in Vermont is no longer there.

Has Jake invented Natalie? Or was he the victim of a weird con game? While Jake’s insistence on finding Natalie at first borders on stalking, Coben accelerates the plot into an unpredictable maze of deceit. Jake’s persistent belief that love will find a way also leads him to reevaluate what he holds sacred and to accept that moral ambiguity exists.

Coben’s novel won’t be the last time you hear from Jake Fisher. Paramount Pictures has acquired “Six Years,” and Hugh Jackman is attached to play Jake.

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