Reviewed in the United States on September 28, 2019
I tried to like this book for a month.
Colleen Coble is a USA Today bestselling author. She came to me recommend by some authors I know and love and respect and whose books I enjoy. She comes from a trusted publisher. I say all this to simply that a lot of people have liked this book. I thought it was me. So after a couple of aborted attempts, I finally powered through.
I’m probably not the target audience for this novel—the half-page description of Oliver Jackson, a handsome, wealthy, fit, and attractive man in his 60s settled that for me. And I thought that might have been the problem. But when I sat down to really dissect the novel and figure it out, I found that my complaint wasn’t the characters or the setting or the voice, it was the sheer amount of storylines packed into novel.
The prologue introduces us to a scene some thirty years past, with a pregnant woman, cut brake lines, and her death. Chapter one begins in present day. We’re introduced to Harper, a woman in a fertility clinic who has just undergone an embryo transfer. Then her wealthy, older business partner Oliver, who can still turn heads, shows up. There’s a single line about how Oliver took Harper in as a teenager after finding her homeless and living on his property.
Cut to Ridge, Oliver’s son, who has gotten a job as a malacologist on Sanibel Island. In a single conversation, Oliver tells his son that he’s already setting up a lab for him to do mollusk research for pharmacological purposes and that would be a better job for him. Oliver takes the job, but mostly do undermine Harper, who he grew up with but doesn’t want as a part of his or his father’s life.
Cut to Harper and Oliver SCUBA diving, looking at mollusks, when Oliver is attacked by a man with a knife. Harper’s the real target, but the killer wants to get Oliver out of the way first. He cuts Oliver’s oxygen tube and swims away. There’s a single line about how the killer is doing this to pay for Alex’s surgery, so he had to do whatever was necessary, no matter how repugnant. The killer attacks Harper as well, but she gets away. There is speculation that the attack was meant to scare her off because the mollusks are on an ancient Native American burial ground.
This is all in the first eighteen pages.
There’s no buildup, no sense of pacing. Suspense has to—well—suspend. It has to leave the reader hanging. It has to allow you to learn about a character as the story progresses. This is a mad scramble of Tragic Backstories that don’t mean anything because you haven’t gotten to know the characters yet. It’s a convoluted set of storylines that makes Days of Our Lives seem like a slow-burn.
The unfortunate thing is that Coble had some great ideas in this book. There’s easily ten novels of storylines crammed into this one. Maybe that’s the point with Strands of Truth. It takes each of the individuals strands being wound back together to understand the story. I just wish she had taken the time to develop them further. I don’t hand out one-star reviews very often, but I will do so reluctantly for this one—and with the caveat that I’m willing to give Coble another chance in the future.