We recently had the pleasure to ask sports mystery king Harlan Coben about his new novel, The Final Detail, his popular sports agent hero, the impression baseball leaves on our lives, and his thoughts on a Mets-Yankees World Series matchup. Enjoy what the very funny Coben has to say.
A Conversation with Harlan Coben
bn.com: What inspired you to create Myron Bolitar, a likeable sports agent? I never realized they actually existed until I read The Final Detail. But then, of course, this is fiction.
Harlan Coben: Saying "likeable sports agent" is a bit like saying "pleasing jock rot." Maybe that was part of the challenge. I never know what inspires what. The process is, I think, more a question of grind than inspiration.
bn.com: Myron has some vivid childhood memories of Yankee Stadium. Are any of those memories actually yours?
HC: The father and son stuff, sure. Ask most adults -- men and women -- to list off some rich childhood memories and I guarantee you that more will revolve around baseball than, say, school. I don't know why. The smells and sounds of baseball are wrapped up in us. I'll always remember the first game my dad took me too. Writing some of the scenes -- digging up these memories -- hurt, almost physically. Readers of all stripes seem to react to that in the book.
bn.com: Do you and your hero Myron Bolitar have anything in common?
HC: Most writers don't like to admit this, but yes, Myron is based somewhat on his creator, albeit with a bit of wish fulfillment tossed in the mix. We both, for example, have great relationships with our parents. We both know too much TV trivia, enjoy Broadway musicals too much, and would rather quote Felix Unger and Oscar Madison than Proust and Yeats. But Myron is funnier than Harlan Coben; he's stronger, more loyal, a better friend, and a helluva better basketball player. I do, however, have him beat in two areas: I'm a better dancer -- I think the correct term for my floor moves would be "snazzy" -- and I'm wiser in the opposite-sex department. I've been happily with the same woman since I was 20 -- I'm 37 now -- while Myron, well, simply put, is an idiot in the ways of women. While I'm jealous of Myron's relationship with his parents, he envies me big-time because I have what he really wants: a great wife and three great kids.
bn.com: The Final Detail touches on a serious problem in our society -- the impression that with talent, money, and fame comes a right to step freely across the line of right and wrong. As your novel points out, the more a person steps across that line, the more it fades and smears. How rampant is this blurring of the lines among professional athletes today?
HC: Pretty dang blurry. But not just for athletes. Myron and Win are often forced to play with those lines too. As I said in The Final Detail, the line between good and evil is not so different from the foul line on a baseball
field. It's often made of stuff as flimsy as lime. It tends to fade over time. It needs to be constantly redrawn. And if enough people trample on it, the line becomes smeared to the point where fair is foul and foul is fair, where good and evil become indistinguishable from each other. This is the evil I want to explore. It's why I'm not big on psycho serial killers or that stuff.
bn.com: Have you been enjoying Major League Baseball '99 thus far? What do you think? Are we going to see a subway series?
HC: I don't know. Do you really want to watch a baseball game underground? Duh, duh, dum. Thank you, I'm here all week.
bn.com: What went into your decision to make Myron's partner and friend, Esperanza, bisexual?
HC: When I was in high school, I dated a lot of bisexuals. I'd mention sex; they'd say "Bye." Okay, old, old joke, but should we ignore the classics?
Actually I didn't know Esperanza was bisexual until midway through the first
book in the series. It shocked the hell out of me.
bn.com: Are you as hilarious in real life as your writing suggests? That bit about "The Sound of Music" killed me.
HC: No. In real life, I'm debonair and oh-so-good looking. Many people mistake me for Mel Gibson, but no one who can -- what's the word? -- see.
bn.com: Talk a tad about today's sports heroes and their responsibility as role models.
HC: They shouldn't be role models. Plain and simple. That's what fascinates me. I don't care who wins or loses or any of that. And it doesn't drive the books. But -- and this is going to sound high-falutin' -- the sports world is a super-intense, high-stakes microcosm. Every emotion is fervently raised to the tenth power. People care about winning and losing way too much. We treat kids who are barely old enough to vote like neo-gods. We make role models out of young men and women whose only claim to such a lofty title is the ability to hurl a sphere with great velocity or jump high or grow big muscles. The money, the power, the fame, the passion -- it's scary and it's a ripe arena for murder and suspense. Whoa, that was deep. Give me a second.
bn.com: What's up next for Myron Bolitar?
HC: I just finished a novel tentatively titled The Ghost in You, which Delacorte will release in May 2000. I don't want to reveal anything yet, but let's just say that Myron readers will be shocked to the core. How's that for a
Read an Excerpt
Myron lay sprawled next to a knee-knockingly gorgeous brunette clad only in a Class-B-felony bikini, a tropical drink sans umbrella in one hand, the aqua clear Caribbean water lapping at his feet, the sand a dazzling white powder, the sky a pure blue that could only be God's blank canvas, the sun as soothing and rich as a Swedish masseur with a snifter of cognac, and he was intensely miserable.
The two of them had been on this island paradise for, he guessed, three weeks. Myron had not bothered counting the days. Neither, he imagined, had Terese. The island seemed as remote as Gilligan's--no phone, some lights, no motorcar, plenty of luxury, not much like Robinson Crusoe, and well, not as primitive as can be either. Myron shook his head. You can take the boy out of the television, but you can't take the television out of the boy.
At the horizon's midway point, slicing toward them and ripping a seam of white in the aqua-blue fabric, came the yacht. Myron saw it, and his stomach clenched.
He did not know where they were exactly, though the island did indeed have a name: St. Bacchanals. Yes, for real. It was a small patch of planet, owned by one of those mega-cruise lines that used one side of the island for passengers to swim and barbecue and enjoy a day on their "own personal island paradise." Personal. Just them and the other twenty-five hundred turistas squeezed onto a short stretch of beach. Yep, personal, bacchanallike.
This side of the island, however, was quite different. There was only this one home, owned by the cruise line's CEO, a hybrid between a thatched hut and a plantation manor. The only person within a mile was a servant. Total island population: maybe thirty, all of whom worked as caretakers hired by the cruise line.
The yacht shut off its engine and drifted closer.
Terese Collins lowered her Bolle sunglasses and frowned. In three weeks no vessel except the mammoth cruise liners--they had subtle names like the Sensation or the Ecstasy or the G Spot--had ambled past their stretch of sand.
"Did you tell anybody where we were?" she asked.
"Maybe it's John."
John was the aforementioned CEO of said cruise line, a friend of Terese's.
"I don't think so," Myron said.
Myron had first met Terese Collins, well, a little more than three weeks ago. Terese was "on leave" from her high-profile job as prime-time anchorwoman for CNN. They both had been bullied into going to some charity function by well-meaning friends and had been immediately drawn to each other as though their mutual misery and pain were magnetic. It started as little more than a dare: Drop everything and flee. Just disappear with someone you found attractive and barely knew. Neither backed down, and twelve hours later they were in St. Maarten. Twenty-four hours after that they were here.
For Myron, a man who had slept with a total of four women in his entire life, who had never really experienced one-night stands even in the days when they were fashionable or ostensibly disease-free, who had never had sex purely for the physical sensation and without the anchors of love or commitment, the decision to flee felt surprisingly right.
He had told no one where he was going or for how long--mostly because he didn't have a clue himself. He'd called Mom and Dad and told them not to worry, a move tantamount to telling them to grow gills and breathe underwater. He'd sent Esperanza a fax and gave her power of attorney over MB SportsReps, the sports agency they now partnered. He had not even called Win.
Terese was watching him. "You know who it is."
Myron said nothing. His heartbeat sped up.
The yacht came closer. A cabin door in the front opened, and as Myron feared, Win stepped out on deck. Panic squeezed the air out of him. Win was not one for casual drop-bys. If he was here, it meant something was very wrong.
Myron stood. He was still too far to yell, so he settled for a wave. Win gave a small nod.
"Wait a second," Terese said. "Isn't that the guy whose family owns Lock-Horne Securities?"
"I interviewed him once. When the market plunged. He has some long, pompous name."
"Windsor Horne Lockwood the third," Myron said.
"Right. Weird guy."
She should only know.
"Good-looking as all hell," Terese continued, "in that old-money, country-club, born-with-a-silver-golf-club-in-his-hands kinda way."
As though on cue, Win put a hand through the blond locks and smiled.
"You two have something in common," Myron said.
"You both think he's good-looking as all hell."
Terese studied Myron's face. "You're going back." There was a hint of apprehension in her voice.
Myron nodded. "Win wouldn't have come otherwise."
She took his hand. It was the first tender moment between them in the three weeks since the charity ball. That might sound strange--lovers alone on an island, the sex constant, who had never shared a gentle kiss or a light stroke or soft words--but their relationship had been about forgetting and surviving: two desperate souls standing in the rubble with no interest in trying to rebuild a damn thing.
Terese had spent most days taking long walks by herself; he'd spent them sitting on the beach and exercising and sometimes reading. They met up for food, sleep, and sex. Other than that, they left each other alone to--if not heal--at least stave off the blood flow. He could see that she too had been shattered, that some recent tragedy had struck her deep and hard and to the bone. But he never asked her what had happened. And she never asked him either.
An unspoken rule of their little folly.
The yacht stopped and dropped anchor. Win stepped down onto a motorized dinghy. Myron waited. He shifted his feet, bracing himself. When the dinghy was close enough to the shore, Win snapped off the motor.
"My parents?" Myron called out.
Win shook his head. "They're fine."
Slight hesitation. "She needs your help."
Win stepped gingerly into the water, almost as though he expected it to hold his weight. He was dressed in a white button-down oxford and Lilly Pulitzer shorts with colors loud enough to repel sharks. The Yacht Yuppie. His build was on the slight side, but his forearms looked like steel snakes coiling beneath the skin.
Terese stood as Win approached. Win admired the view without ogling. He was one of the few men Myron knew who could get away with that. Breeding. He took Terese's hand and smiled. They exchanged pleasantries. Fake smiles and pointless bandies followed. Myron stood frozen, not listening. Terese excused herself and headed to the house.
Win carefully watched her saunter away. Then he said, "Quality derrière."
"Would you be referring to me?" Myron asked.
Win kept his eyes keenly focused on the, er, target. "On television she's always sitting behind that anchor desk," he noted. "One would never guess that she had such a high-quality derrière." He shook his head. "It's a shame really."
"Right," Myron said. "Maybe she should stand a couple times during each broadcast. Twirl around a few times, bend over, something like that."
"There you go." Win risked a quick glance at Myron. "Take any action snapshots, perhaps a videotape?"
"No, that would be you," Myron said, "or maybe an extra-perverse rock star."
"Yeah, shame, I got that." Quality derrière? "So what's wrong with Esperanza?"
Terese finally disappeared through the front door. Win sighed softly and turned toward Myron. "The yacht will take half an hour to refuel. We'll leave then. Mind if I sit?"
"What happened, Win?"
He did not answer, choosing instead to sit on a chaise longue and ease back. He put his hands behind his head and crossed his ankles. "I'll say this for you. When you decide to wig out, you do it in style."
"I didn't wig out. I just needed a break."
"Uh-hmm." Win looked off, and a realization smacked Myron in the head: He had hurt Win's feelings. Strange but probably true. Win might be a blue-blooded, aristocratic sociopath, but hey, he was still human, sort of. The two men had been inseparable since college, yet Myron had run off without even calling. In many ways Win had no one else.
"I meant to call you," Myron said weakly.
Win kept still.
"But I knew if there was a problem, you'd be able to find me." That was true. Win could find a Hoffa needle in a Judge Crater haystack.
Win waved a hand. "Whatever."
"So what's wrong with Esperanza?"
Myron's first client, a right-handed relief pitcher in the twilight of his career. "What about him?"
"He's dead," Win said.
Myron felt his legs buckle a bit. He let himself land on the chaise.
"Shot three times in his own abode."
Myron lowered his head. "I thought he'd straightened himself out."
Win said nothing.
"So what does Esperanza have to do with this?"
Win looked at his watch. "Right about now," he said, "she is in all likelihood being arrested for his murder."
Win said nothing again. He hated to repeat himself.
"They think Esperanza killed him?"
"Good to see your vacation hasn't dulled your sharp powers of deduction." Win tilted his face toward the sun.
"What sort of evidence do they have?"
"The murder weapon, for one. Bloodstains. Fibers. Do you have any sunblock?"
"But how . . . ?" Myron studied his friend's face. As usual, it gave away nothing. "Did she do it?"
"I have no idea."
"Did you ask her?"
"Esperanza does not wish to speak with me."
"She does not wish to speak with you either."
"I don't understand," Myron said. "Esperanza wouldn't kill anyone."
"You're quite sure about that, are you?"
Myron swallowed. He had thought that his recent experience would help him understand Win better. Win had killed too. Often, in fact. Now that Myron had done likewise, he thought that there would be a fresh bond. But there wasn't. Just the opposite, in fact. Their shared experienced was opening a whole new chasm.
Win checked his watch. "Why don't you go get packed?"
"There's nothing I need to bring."
Win motioned to the house. Terese stood there, watching them silently. "Then say good-bye to La Derrière and let's be on our way."
From the Paperback edition.