The Innocent

The Innocent

4.1 123
by Harlan Coben
     
 

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"The horror of one night is forever etched in Matt Hunter's memory: the night he innocently tried to break up a fight - and ended up a killer. Now, nine years after his release from prison, his innocence long forgotten, he's an ex-con who takes nothing for granted. With his wife, Olivia, pregnant and the two of them closing on a house in his hometown, things are… See more details below

Overview

"The horror of one night is forever etched in Matt Hunter's memory: the night he innocently tried to break up a fight - and ended up a killer. Now, nine years after his release from prison, his innocence long forgotten, he's an ex-con who takes nothing for granted. With his wife, Olivia, pregnant and the two of them closing on a house in his hometown, things are looking up. Until the day Matt gets a shocking, inexplicable video call from Olivia's phone. And in an instant, the unraveling begins." A mysterious man who'd begun tailing Matt turns up dead. A beloved nun is murdered. And local and federal authorities - including homicide investigator Loren Muse, a childhood schoolmate of Matt's with a troubled past of her own - see all signs pointing to a former criminal with one murder already under his belt: Matt Hunter. Unwilling to lose everything for a second time, Matt and Olivia are forced outside the law in a desperate attempt to save their future together.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Coben seems to delight in making bad things happen to good people (Tell No One; Gone for Good; etc.), and he does it again in this, his best book to date. A paralegal, devoted husband and soon-to-be father, Matt Hunter has a not-so-secret past: when he was 20, in an attempt to break up a fistfight, he killed a man and served four years in prison for it. He's been out five years, living in his New Jersey hometown, and life is pretty good. But when his beloved wife, Olivia, goes away on a business trip, he receives 15 seconds of digital video on his camera phone showing her in a hotel room with another man. Meanwhile, Loren Muse, Essex County homicide investigator, is working on an unusual case: an autopsy of a nun reveals breast implants, which hint at a previous, not so holy life. After the FBI is called in, evidence links Matt to the nun killing. Like all of Coben's stand-alone thrillers, this is a long, extremely complex tale with plenty of gunfire, betrayals, late-night chases and good people forced to go on the lam. All the characters have extensive, interesting histories, which makes their actions believable under the extreme circumstances that engulf them. Some readers have felt that Coben has been treading water with his last two outings, but this one should re-establish his credentials. Major ad/promo. (Apr. 26) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
When it comes to creating crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and numerous plots and subplots with the skill of a master weaver, Harlan Coben almost makes famed moviemaker Alfred Hitchcock look like an amateur. The Innocent enhances Coben's already enviable reputation as a peerless, high-concept author of thrillers in which seemingly ordinary people get caught up in unexpected, fearful and bewildering situations. If you start reading this at an airport, be sure to arrange beforehand for someone to tap your shoulder when your plane begins boarding, lest you miss your flight because you were so engrossed in this harrowing book. (23 May 2005)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
Out of jail after a conviction for manslaughter (he was just trying to stop a fight), Matt Hunter suddenly finds himself suspected of multiple murders. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ex-con's carefully constructed new life in the New Jersey suburbs comes crashing down with a single call from his wife's new camera phone. Nine years ago, Matt Hunter was just another college kid when he accidentally killed another boy in a fight he was trying to break up. Now, five years after his release from prison, he can't believe the good fortune that gave him a paralegal job in his late brother's law firm and a beautiful, loving wife who's just found out she's pregnant. And maybe it's all too good to be true, as he can't help thinking when he answers a call from Olivia and sees a video of her wearing a blonde wig, walking around a strange hotel room with a strange man. As the unknown man keeps tugging on Matt's leash by phoning him with further taunts, Coben plays out a pair of plot lines-a young woman's search for information about her birth mother Candace Potter, aka Candi Cane, a Vegas stripper murdered ten years ago, and the much more recent death of Sister Mary Rose, a nun with breast implants-that couldn't seem more remote from Matt's suspicions about Olivia. As Matt starts to notice details about a mysterious car that's been following him and the weather outside Olivia's hotel room, though, the pieces of the puzzle start to fall together. As usual in Coben's suburban thrillers (Just One Look, 2004, etc.), there's a record number of jaw-dropping plot twists-this time, Coben surpasses Jeffery Deaver as the most generous plotter in the thriller racket-and as usual, more and more of them defy belief. The gaping improbabilities won't bother fans of rose-tinted nightmares a bit as they gasp their way through Matt's free-fall, scared and happy as kids on a roller-coaster.
From the Publisher
“What Coben does best is take readers into his characters’ hearts and minds. His protagonists are just common folks, minding their own business when—bam!—they are drawn into a terrifying world of sordid crimes and mayhem.”—USA Today

 “Coben does for thrillers what Hitchcock did for the movies.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Ranks as one of his most exciting.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781585476299
Publisher:
Center Point Large Print
Publication date:
08/28/2005
Pages:
479
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

You never meant to kill him.

Your name is Matt Hunter. You are twenty years old. You grew up in an upper-middle- class suburb in northern New Jersey, not far from Manhattan. You live on the poorer side of town, but itís a pretty wealthy town. Your parents work hard and love you unconditionally. You are a middle child. You have an older brother whom you worship, and a younger sister whom you tolerate.

Like every kid in your town, you grow up worrying about your future and what college you will get into. You work hard enough and get good, if not spectacular, grades. Your average is an A minus. You donít make the top ten percent but youíre close. You have decent extracurricular activities, including a stint as treasurer of the school. You are a letterman for both the football and basketball teamógood enough to play Division III but not for a financial scholarship. You are a bit of a wiseass and naturally charming. In terms of popularity, you hover right below the top echelon. When you take your SATs, your high scores surprise your guidance counselor.

You shoot for the Ivy Leagues, but they are just a little out of your reach. Harvard and Yale reject you outright. Penn and Columbia waitlist you. You end up going to Bowdoin, a small elite college in Brunswick, Maine. You love it there. The class sizes are small. You make friends. You donít have a steady girlfriend, but you probably donít want one anyway. In your sophomore year, you start on the varsity football team as a defensive back. You play JV basketball right off the bat, and now that the senior point guard has graduated, you have a serious chance of gettingvaluable minutes.

It is then, heading back to campus between the first and second semester of your junior year, that you kill someone.

You have a wonderfully hectic holiday break with your family, but basketball practice beckons. You kiss your mother and father good-bye and drive back to campus with your best friend and roommate, Duff. Duff is from Westchester, New York. He is squat with thick legs. He plays right tackle on the football team and sits the bench for basketball. He is the biggest drinker on campusóDuff never loses a chugging contest.

You drive.

Duff wants to stop at UMass in Amherst, Massachusetts, on the way up. A high school buddy of his is a member of a wild frat there. They are having a huge party.

Youíre not enthusiastic, but youíre no party pooper. You are more comfortable with smaller gatherings where you pretty much know everyone. Bowdoin has about 1,600 students. UMass has nearly 40,000. It is early January and freezing cold. There is snow on the ground. You see your breath as you walk into the frat house.

You and Duff throw your coats on the pile. You will think about that a lot over the years, that casual toss of the coats. If youíd kept the coat on, if youíd left it in the car, if youíd put it anyplace else . . .

But none of that happened.

The party is okay. It is wild, yes, but it feels to you like a forced wild. Duffís friend wants you both to spend the night in his room. You agree. You drink a fair amountóthis is a college party, after allóthough not nearly as much as Duff. The party winds down. At some point you both go to get your coats. Duff is holding his beer. He picks up his coat and swings it over his shoulder.

That is when some of his beer spills.

Not a lot. Just a splash. But itís enough.

The beer lands on a red Windbreaker. Thatís one of the things you remember. It was freezing cold outside, in the teens, and yet someone was wearing just a Windbreaker. The other thing you will never shake from your mind is that a Windbreaker is waterproof. The spilled beer, little as it was, would not harm the coat. It would not stain. It could so easily be rinsed away.

But someone yells, ìHey!î

He, the owner of the red Windbreaker, is a big guy but not huge. Duff shrugs. He does not apologize. The guy, Mr. Red Windbreaker, gets in Duffís face. This is a mistake. You know that Duff is a great fighter with a short fuse. Every school has a Duffóthe guy you can never imagine losing a fight.

Thatís the problem, of course. Every school has a Duff. And once in a while your Duff runs into their Duff.

You try to end it right there, try to laugh it off, but you have two serious beer-marinated headcases with reddening faces and tightening fists. A challenge is issued. You donít remember who made it. You all step outside into the frigid night, and you realize that you are in a heap of trouble.

The big guy with the red Windbreaker has friends with him.

Eight or nine of them. You and Duff are alone. You look for Duffís high school friendó Mark or Mike or somethingóbut he is nowhere to be found.

The fight begins quickly.

Duff lowers his head bull-like and charges Red Windbreaker. Red Windbreaker steps to the side and catches Duff in a headlock. He punches Duff in the nose. Still holding Duff in the headlock, he punches him again. Then again. And again.

Duffís head is down. He is swinging wildly and with no effect. It is somewhere around the seventh or eighth punch that Duff stops swinging. Red Windbreakerís friends start cheering. Duffís arms drop to his sides.

You want to stop it, but you are not sure how. Red Windbreaker is going about his work methodically, taking his time with his punches, using big windups. His buddies are cheering him on now. They ooh and ahh with each splat.

You are terrified.

Your friend is taking a beating, but you are mostly worried about yourself. That shames you. You want to do something, but you are afraid, seriously afraid. You canít move. Your legs feel like rubber. Your arms tingle. And you hate yourself for that.

Red Windbreaker throws another punch straight into Duffís face. He releases the headlock. Duff drops to the ground like a bag of laundry. Red Windbreaker kicks Duff in the ribs.

You are the worst sort of friend. You are too scared to help. You will never forget that feeling. Cowardice. It is worse than a beating, you think. Your silence. This awful feeling of dishonor.

Another kick. Duff grunts and rolls onto his back. His face is streaked with crimson red. You will learn later that his injuries were minor. Duff will have two black eyes and numerous bruises. That will be about it. But right now he looks bad. You know that he would never stand by and let you take a beating like this.

You can stand it no longer.

You jump out of the crowd.

All heads turn toward you. For a moment nobody moves. Nobody speaks. Red Windbreaker is breathing hard. You see his breath in the cold. You are shaking. You try to sound rational. Hey, you say, heís had enough. You spread your arms. You try the charming smile. Heís lost the fight, you say. Itís over. Youíve won, you tell Red Windbreaker.

Someone jumps you from behind. Arms snake around you, wrapping you in a bear hug. You are trapped.

Red Windbreaker comes at you now. Your heart is beating against your chest like a bird in too small a cage. You reel your head back. Your skull crashes into someoneís nose. Red Windbreaker is closer now. You duck out of the way. Someone else comes out of the crowd. He has blond hair, his complexion ruddy. You figure that he is another one of Red Windbreakerís pals.

His name is Stephen McGrath.

He reaches for you. You buck away like a fish on a hook. More are coming at you. You panic. Stephen McGrath puts his hands on your shoulders. You try to break free. You spin frantically.

That is when you reach out and grab his neck.

Did you lunge at him? Did he pull you or did you push him? You donít know. Did one of you lose your footing on the sidewalk? Was the ice to blame? You will flash back to this moment countless times, but the answer will never be clear.

Either way, you both fall.

Both of your hands are still on his neck. On his throat. You donít let go.

You land with a thud. The back of Stephen McGrathís skull hits the sidewalk curb. There is a sound, an awful hell-spawned crack, something wet and too hollow and unlike anything you have heard before.

The sound marks the end of life as you know it.

You will always remember it. That awful sound. It will never leave you.

Everything stops. You stare down. Stephen McGrathís eyes are open and unblinking. But you know already. You know by the way his body went suddenly slack. You know by that awful hell-spawned crack.

People scatter. You do not move. You do not move for a very long time.

It happens fast then. Campus security arrives. Then the police. You tell them what happened. Your parents hire a hotshot lawyer from New York City. She tells you to plead self-defense. You do.

And you keep hearing that awful sound.

The prosecutor scoffs. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, he says, the defendant happened to slip with his hands wrapped around Stephen McGrathís throat? Does he really expect us to believe that?

The trial does not go well.

Nothing matters to you. You once cared about grades and playing time. How pathetic. Friends, girls, pecking order, parties, getting ahead, all that stuff. They are vapors. They have been replaced by the awful sound of that skull cracking against stone.

At the trial, you hear your parents cry, yes, but it is the faces of Sonya and Clark McGrath, the victimís parents, that will haunt you. Sonya McGrath glares at you throughout the proceedings. She dares you to meet her eye.

You canít.

You try to hear the jury announce the verdict, but those other sounds get in the way. The sounds never cease, never let up, even when the judge looks down sternly and sentences you. The press is watching. You will not be sent to a soft white-boy country-club prison. Not now. Not during an election year.

Your mother faints. Your father tries to be strong. Your sister runs out of the courtroom. Your brother, Bernie, stands frozen.

You are put in handcuffs and taken away. Your upbringing does little to prepare you for what lies ahead. You have watched TV and have heard all the tales of prison rape. That does not happenóno sexual assaultóbut you are beaten with fists during your first week. You make the mistake of identifying who did it. You get beaten twice more and spend three weeks in the infirmary. Years later, you will still sometimes find blood in your urine, a souvenir from a blow to the kidney.

You live in constant fear. When you are let back into the general population, you learn that the only way you can survive is to join a bizarre offshoot of the Aryan Nation. They do not have big ideas or a grandiose vision of what America should be like. They pretty much just love to hate.

Six months into your incarceration your father dies of a heart attack. You know that itís your fault. You want to cry, but you canít.

You spend four years in prison. Four yearsóthe same amount of time most students spend in college. You are just shy of your twenty-fifth birthday. They say youíve changed, but youíre not really sure.

When you walk out, you step tentatively. As if the ground below your feet might give. As if the earth might simply cave in on you at any time.

In some ways you will always walk like that.

Your brother, Bernie, is at the gate to meet you. Bernie just got married. His wife, Marsha, is pregnant with their first child. He puts his arms around you. You can almost feel the last four years shed away. Your brother makes a joke. You laugh, really laugh, for the first time in so long.

You were wrong beforeóyour life did not end on that cold night in Amherst. Your brother will help you find normalcy. You will even meet a beautiful woman down the road. Her name is Olivia. She will make you enormously happy.

You will marry her.

One dayónine years after you walk through those gatesóyou will learn that your beautiful wife is pregnant. You decide to buy camera phones to stay in constant touch. While youíre at work, that phone rings.

Your name is Matt Hunter. The phone rings a second time. And then you answer it. . . .

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“What Coben does best is take readers into his characters’ hearts and minds. His protagonists are just common folks, minding their own business when—bam!—they are drawn into a terrifying world of sordid crimes and mayhem.”—USA Today

“Coben does for thrillers what Hitchcock did for the movies.”—South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Ranks as one of his most exciting.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

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