As footballers (and other super-rich types) wield injunctions to keep their secrets buried, they may feel they are fighting a losing battle in a world of scattershot electronic dissemination.

Perhaps they should try murder, the solution usually practised in crime fiction. It seems to attain the desired end, for a time at least. But, inevitably, the chickens come home to roost. Malicious Facebook exposures are at the heart of Live Wire, the latest novel by the reliable Harlan Coben, who combines storytelling nous in the most venerable tradition and an au courant engagement with the modern world. Myron Bolitar, once Coben’s habitual protagonist, has been sidelined of late; he’s back in the new book. Myron’s juggling of multiple careers (sports agent and private investigator being his two main callings) has become ever-more complicated. His reckless readiness to sacrifice equilibrium in his private life to help friends and clients has come at a heavy cost.

An anonymous Facebook posting makes scurrilous claims about the paternity of an unborn child: that of ex-tennis star Suzze T and her wayward rock-legend husband, Lex. The latter, unsurprisingly, jumps ship, and the heavily pregnant Suzze in desperation visits Myron, pleading with him to save her marriage. As so often with Bolitar, his own jumbled life has a way of interposing itself on his cases. He encounters his sister-in-law Kitty (married to a brother to whom Myron no longer speaks) and her son Micky. The latter is burning with anger at Myron, whom he regards as responsible for his parents’ problems. The dual search – and the issue of how lies can deform our lives – takes Live Wire into some very unsettling territory.

Although the mechanics of the plot are handled here with the customary aplomb, for most readers the real interest will be Coben’s readiness to turn around everything we thought we knew about his central character. Frankly, this strategy is far more engaging than the putative main plot – something, no doubt, of which Coben was fully aware.

His recent stand-alone thrillers have been enthusiastically received in the UK; British readers often found it hard to relate to the world of American sports so central to the Bolitar books (not a problem, one imagines, for American fans). But no such caveats are necessary here. The unsparing examination of Myron’s identity in Live Wire shows Coben comfortably (to use a sporting metaphor) at the top of his game.

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