If you’ve ever put off answering your phone, watching TV, checking your email, eating, drinking, and/or breathing because you just had to finish one more chapter of a book -- you might have read a Harlan Coben novel. Coben has spent his adult life writing what he calls “novels of immersion”: books you can’t stop reading at the beach, on the subway, or on vacation. And he’s pretty damned good at writing them, too, as proven by their popularity: 70 million copies of his novels -- such as Tell No One and Home -- have been translated into 43 languages worldwide!
But when we found out that Coben is currently working on a new Netflix series starring Dexter’s Michael C. Hall that features a brewery murder, we knew we had to co-write a beer-themed mystery / thriller with the dude.
Of course, internationally best-selling authors tend to be quite busy -- so we supplied the plot, and he blindly chipped in nouns upon prompts (in the style of a trademarked word-game you’ve probably played in the car on family vacations that rhymes with "Lad Mibs"). The result, as you will read, is a veritable masterpiece.
But first, Coben spoke to us from his New Jersey home on writing, his books, and beer.
TBN: When you were growing up, did you always want to be a writer?
Coben: Not really. Most writers are like, ‘I knew when I was a three month old fetus that I wanted to become a writer. The pen formed in my mother’s womb.’ I always find that a bit pretentious. I was in college and I’d worked the summer in Spain as a tour director for a group of Americans. Not because I’m a brilliant linguist, but because my grandfather owned the travel agency. I had an idea that I wanted to write a book about that experience. And the book was terrible and pompous, like most first novels. But then I got the writing virus.
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Your stories are intricately crafted. How do you keep all of the clues and red herrings together?
I pretty much keep it in my head. I know the beginning and I know the end, but I know very little in between. I compare it to driving from my home state of New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, but chances are I’ll go via the Suez Canal, or stop in Tokyo. The key is that I end up in California. If I keep my eye on the ending, I can usually figure out how to get there.
Can you tell us about your upcoming novel Don’t Let Go?
I grew up in Livingston, New Jersey, outside of Newark. It’s a nice, grassy suburb -- a fairly big town. There was a legend that this area that was fenced off with ‘KEEP OUT’ signs was actually a military base that held nuclear missiles. I figured that was nonsense...but then I learned it was true! There was a Nike missile base / command center in Livingston, and the nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles were next door in East Hanover. And that inspired an idea of what would happen if kids started exploring [there] back in the day. When I was a kid, they did that all the time. That’s where the book opens.
So what’s your beer diet like?
Wherever I am, I want the local craft brew. I just came back from Greece. When they asked ‘What wines or beers do you want in the fridge?’ I said I wanted the local [stuff]. When I go on the road for the book tour...I go to a local place -- every [bar/restaurant] now carries at least a few local beers -- and ask for recommendations. Over the last few years, everywhere you go you can get something made within 20 miles that’s pretty good.
Are you a fan of any particular breweries from the NY / NJ area?
My brother went to Yale with Tom Potter, who founded Brooklyn Brewery about 30 years ago, and was an original investor. We’re proud of what he did over there.
For some reason I like beers with the word ‘fish’ in them! Dogfish, Flying Fish. I’ve liked Flying Fish the last couple of years, and I’ve mentioned them in a book or two. I don’t know if they know it. I hope to always get a freebie out of [doing] that, but I don’t know if it‘s working! [laughs]
credits:"[Flying Fish Brewing Company / Facebook](https://www.facebook.com/flyingfishbrew/photos/a.10150195933206023.344880.31416001022/10155333066511023/?type=3&theater)" width:850 align:center
(This interview was edited and condensed.)
By Lee Breslouer & (Bold Words Supplied By) Harlan Coben
Professional poker player Rich Stone drove onto the grounds of DONALD GREENSPAN’s massive estate. His frame barely fit in the driver’s seat of his late-model Mercedes, a testament to the hours he spent in the gym when he wasn’t taking people’s money on the poker table.
Stone had just been to Greenspan’s house the previous night for a bottle share. Greenspan collected whales -- or rare bottles of beer -- like other rich people collected PIZZAS. But he wasn’t stingy. He loved having his friends over to share in the beer. His friends were athletes like football player JACK YOUNGBLOOD and best-selling authors like Harlan Coben. Stone had a few of these whales last night -- everything from Other Half Twice Baked Potato to BLUE POINT TOASTED LAGER -- and his driver (specially hired for nights like this) drove him home afterwards. But Stone was back because he’d left his phone behind.
He was always forgetting his damned phone.
Stone rang the doorbell and waited. And waited.
“C’mon, Greenspan!” Stone shouted playfully. “Trying to avoid me because you stole my phone so you could sell it on Craigslist?”
Rich guy humor never got old for Stone.
Stone decided to let himself into his friend’s New Jersey palace. He was eager to hop on a BICYCLE to Atlantic City that night for a poker tournament, but he needed his phone back, first.
He took a few steps into the house. And then he saw his friend.
“What the…?” Stone muttered in disbelief.
His friend, alive just a few hours ago, was face down on the spiral staircase in the foyer, his body curving up the steps like a question mark.
He was as dead as a DIAPER.
credits:"[Tony Webster / Flickr](https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/2498847226)"
Stone nursed a DOGFISH HEAD 90 MINUTE IPA at THE CARELESS WHISPER. Everyone knew him there.
He’d mostly kept to himself over the last week, trying to piece together what had happened. The police told him to stay away, that it looked like HE [ACCIDENTALLY] FELL FROM A LONG DROP, and that they had the investigation under control. But he suspected that his friend died under more mysterious circumstances.
Suddenly, like out of a movie, all chatter in the bar came to an immediate halt as every customer gazed towards the entrance to stare at Greenspan’s widow as she sauntered into the bar.
BARBARA Greenspan was 6’4”, dressed head-to-toe in YVES SAINT LAURENT, looking like a runway model. Probably because she was one back in the ‘90s. She was always attracted to the finer things in life. Including Greenspan.
“I just had to get away,” she said, approaching Stone without an invitation.
“I get it,” Stone replied. “It’s been all over the news.”
“Strongest beer you have,” she said to the bartender.
“Can I ask you something?” Stone queried.
“Of course,” she said. “You were one of his best friends.”
“Do you buy the cops’ theory that he died accidentally from a long drop? He was in pretty excellent shape.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t.”
“I don’t, either.”
“I know people on INSTAGRAM are saying I did it. That we took out a life insurance policy on him a few months before his death.”
“Yes,” she said, as tears filled her eyes. “But you have to believe me that it was pure coincidence. I loved Donald. Loved him with all my heart.”
Stone had his suspicions -- she did stand to make FOUR DOLLARS from cashing in the policy. But he let her talk.
“I’ll tell you what I think happened,” she continued. “I think he was murdered for his beer collection.”
credits:"[Patrick Barry / Flickr](https://www.flickr.com/photos/pbarry/5610452490)"
Stone took the next few nights off from poker. He needed to investigate what happened to his friend. And he started on his phone. He’d bought a new one. His old one was still missing.
“What’re you doing?” Stone’s girlfriend asked him. Though EDWINA was obsessed with true crime shows on TV, now that a real-life crime story was consuming her boyfriend, she was less than enthused.
“Browsing Instagram,” he said. “I think Donald was murdered by someone who wanted his beer collection. Someone who would stop at nothing to drink his tasty whales, and then make it look like he fell from a long drop.”
“Who would murder someone for a beer?”
“Clearly you’ve never been to a brewery on beer release day,” Stone quipped, and she left the room, shaking her head.
Suddenly, Stone stumbled upon the profile of Instagram user @whalefisherman1990, a local beer trader who always seemed to have the freshest brews on the market -- even THE SKINNY LATTE. He was one of many people in attendance at the bottle share the night Greenspan died.
Stone created a Instagram account: @LadiesImStone. Then he sent a private message to the whale fisherman.
“ISO white whalez for IP, bro” Stone typed.
ISO meant “in search of”; IP meant an “in-person trade.” All standard lingo. A minute passed. Then, a reply.
“Sure thing, bro. Just got a bunch of new whalez last night.”
“Gotcha,” Stone whispered, clenching a fist. But to find out if this guy actually murdered Donald Greenspan for his beer, he’d need some help.
He’d need DORIS.
credits:"[Isaac Kohane / Flickr](https://www.flickr.com/photos/52786697@N00/5159564109)"
Sipping a Brooklyn Lager at The Careless Whisper, Doris looked unrecognizable. Stone’s ex-girlfriend -- also the only person to ever wipe Stone clean at the poker table -- had on a Mikkeller snapback and a Run the Jewels / Interboro t-shirt. Normally she wore Lilly Pulitzer. Stone was amused.
“Looking great,” he said to Doris, with a smile overtaking his lips. It was the first time he’d smiled since he found his friend’s body.
“People actually wear this stuff?” she asked.
“That t-shirt is pretty rare, actually. You could sell it on AMAZON for a pretty chunk of change.”
“Remind me of that after I buy some beer from this guy.”
Right on time, in walked Mr. Whale Fisherman.
“Whale Fisherman 1990?” she asked the guy carrying TWELVE cans of rare, delicious beers.
“Yeah,” he said. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the woman who’s going to buy all your beer. I’ll need more than that,” she said, pointing to his stash.
He laughed coldly. “What do you have in mind?”
“I have a big party coming up, and want to impress everyone. I need your rarest of the rare.”
“Let me check my trunk,” he said.
She followed him out into the parking lot, where Fisherman opened his trunk to hundreds of bottles.
“How much for this one?” Doris asked as she picked up a bottle that was clearly homebrew. It had a label that read: “Wedding Beer: 2013.”
“Yeah, I don’t know that one too well. I got it the other week in a big trade.”
Suddenly, Stone emerged from the shadows.
“Big trade,” he repeated. “Is that what criminals are calling murder these days?”
“Who the hell are you?” asked Mr. Whale Fisherman.
“I’m the guy making a citizen’s arrest for the murder of Donald Greenspan.”
Fisherman laughed. “On what grounds, dumbass?”
“On the grounds that I brewed that beer for Donald’s wedding,” Stone said as he snapped plastic cuffs on Fisherman.
“You have no proof! He traded me for it!”
Stone smiled. “He would never have given that away. It was aged in whiskey barrels, meant to be opened on his FIVE-year-anniversary.”
The Fisherman slumped to the ground.
“Fine! Okay! I killed him, and made it look like he accidentally fell from a long drop! But I had to! It’s so difficult to keep up with everyone’s amazing Instagram #beerhauls, and I did what I had to do in order to stay ahead of the curve. Greenspan had the best collection. If I didn’t kill him for his collection, someone else would’ve.”
Stone squinted. “By the time you get out of jail,” he sneered, “that wedding beer will have been aged so long it’ll be a shelf turd.”
“This guy’s the turd,” Doris said.
Stone nodded and cracked open the beer. He took a sip.
“Not ideal,” he said, “but not bad, either.” And a single tear fell down his cheek.
Note: Blue Point Brewing Co. is a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.