I've been saying for years that the single most neglected major crime fiction writer in the United States is Andrew Coburn. And here he is with a new novel to prove me right again.
I've spent two days trying to think of a tidy way to describe On The Loose (Leisure,$6.99) and thus far my best shot is to imagine a collaboration between John D. MacDonald Ruth Rendell. MacDonald for the page-turning excitement of following the most unique serial killer since The Bad Seed and Rendell for some of the quirkiest characters outside several of her own masterpieces.
Coburn is a profoundly American writer as he demonstrates in this novel that spans slightly more than a decade in the life of a small New England town. The storyline never lets you go. The murders are committed by one of the mostly stunningly enigmatic killers in mystery fiction. He is barely ten the first time he strikes. He is not much older the second time. The killings are what propel the storyline.
But Coburn's sense of the town and the lives of his people are what give the book the depth and range of a true novel. He does what Hitchcock did in Shadow of a Doubt--takes a story that has a death-grip on its readers and then walk thems around the lives and town that surround the killer. The fading beauty lost to excess weight and clinical depression; the police chief who believes he is beyond passion only to find it again and risk being crushed by it; the man dying of AIDs and the woman who befriends him; the divide between rich and poor that belittles both sides.
And the writing itself. Coburn plays all the instruments in the orchestra for this book which is, by turns, lyrical, funny, solemn, sarcastic, violent, terrifying and human in a way page-turners rarely are.
It's time for Andrew Coburn to be recognized for the master stylist and storyteller extraordinaire he has been for more than two decades now. On The Run--and everybody in the book really is running from something--proves that he gets better with each new novel.