We have become a world of voyeurs, obsessed with the lives of everyone else.
It’s a benign-enough past-time for most of us--and one nearly impossible to avoid. Think about what lines the walls of supermarket checkout aisles everywhere (aside from candy and all those bizarre little gizmos you were previously, blissfully unaware you craved): tabloids, emblazoned with (often) embarrassing and (usually) Photoshopped pictures of celebrities--courtesy of the very lowest rung of photojournalists, the paparazzi--with captions blatantly espousing tawdry rumors in bold 100-point type. (You’ve ogled the flashy covers and flipped through the pages when you thought no one was looking, haven’t you?)
Or, consider the current TV trends: the so-called “reality” shows, encompassing everything from assorted talent competitions to programs which supposedly follow the lives of this or that group of has-beens, wannabe-celebrities, or “interesting” people doing... well, whatever sort of awful or strange stuff it is that they do; and the tabloid-y “talk” shows, in which a host interviews some of society’s dregs (or people being paid to make us think they’re utterly-classless imbeciles), about the awful stuff they claim to do.
Is this passive voyeurism completely harmless? I’m not convinced of that, at all... although it’s certainly true there many things much worse.
But what about the people who aren’t seeking the limelight or looking for a quick buck by posing for and participating in the photo ops and programs? There have to be some unintentional casualties... ruined reputations, embarrassments and scandals from which there’s no coming back.
Harlan Coben offers a fascinating look at someone who finds himself in that predicament--and the person who puts him there--in Caught, which pits the effects of our quest for titillation--and the media’s pursuit of ratings--against an individual’s right to privacy, truth, and justice.
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After enduring a difficult childhood, Dan Mercer became a social worker so that he could hopefully help others through their own tough times. His understanding of troubled teens--and nonjudgmental attitude toward them--have earned him respect and commendations.
Reporter Wendy Tynes has covered all sorts of human interest stories during her career, but her current specialty is deadly serious: exposing sexual predators on the nationally-aired TV program, “Caught in the Act”. Her reports have brought dozens of deviants to light, increasing awareness of the problem on a large scale.
When Wendy’s latest televised sting operation snares Dan and outs him as a child molester, everyone is in a state of shock--including Wendy, who had previously interviewed him about his successful work with youths. Still, the evidence against him is staggering; he’s caught red-handed, meeting a (supposedly) underaged girl with whom he’d been conducting an email relationship for some time. In addition, the police unearth a large stash of kiddie porn during a search of his home.
Dan cries foul. He claims he wasn’t sending risque emails to any teenagers, and that the only reason he showed up at the house where he was busted was in response to a frantic phone call to the help center he runs, which was made by a troubled teen. (He’s also adamant about denying ownership of the pornographic materials found in his garage.)
His lawyer manages to get the charges dropped; it was clearly entrapment, and the search was of the “fruit of the poison tree” variety. But, while this result might put an end to the shame and embarrassment for those accused of other crimes, being tied to a sex crime--one with children, no less--is a different matter altogether. In the days following his release, he is followed, chased, and brutally beaten up multiple times.
As bad as it is (and this would be near the end of many books, instead of being merely the beginning of this one), it’s only the start of a tragic, downward spiral...
Just three months earlier, the same New Jersey community had been rocked by another scandal--the disappearance of sweet, smart, and well-liked high school senior, Haley McWaid. Her friends and family can only assume the worst after such a long time with no news and no leads (although they still cling desperately to the last vestiges of feeble hope).
When, out of the blue, a mysterious connection is made between Haley and Dan, the two cases--one a few months old and rather “cold”, the other still so new and fresh--become entwined in a tangled mess of clues, false leads, and dashed hopes.
Wendy, for her part, is torn; did she help set up an innocent man, putting his life in grave danger from all those who remain unpersuaded of his innocence? Or, did her actions botch the case so that a guilty man--who might possess intimate knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing Haley--is instead freed? Wendy doesn’t have any answers, but she intends to find them.
As she pursues her own investigations, though, she discovers that there are, perhaps, as many people who don’t want the truth uncovered, as those who do... and the ones who don’t are the ones she comes to fear, as her life becomes a mirror image of Dan’s... being followed, threatened, ostracized, and even losing her job, all because of some false accusations leveled against her.
Making it personal is a mistake for whomever is behind everything, of course-- particularly when the target of these attacks is trained to be curious and tenacious about uncovering the truth. There will be other victims before everything is said and done, as ancient history is revisited and old laundry is finally aired, but Wendy will get to the bottom; she’s determined to somehow correct the actions she inadvertently set into motion.
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Caught is quintessential Harlan Coben, delving right into the dark areas that even the most “ordinary” among us keep hidden deep inside. It’s impossible to read this book without being an active participant, thinking about the issues and putting yourself in everyone’s shoes, asking how you’d feel and how you’d react.
The answers, like life, are not simple. Neither is Caught, which is, instead, a challenging, stimulating, and thought-provoking read... one that steadily builds in tension and dread until finally reaching an ending that... well, let's just say you probably won’t see this one coming.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies