David Burroughs is in Briggs Jail for a crime he says he did not commit: murdering his son in cold blood at home. He has been in jail for five long years. He has never had a visitor, not even his ex-wife, Cheryl. The evidence for his conviction is overwhelming. Most people accept he is guilty, except himself. Even though he is prone to sleep walking, even though he has had psychotic episodes in his past, he fervently believes that he is innocent.
This is the premise of Harlan Coben’s new legal thriller, I Will Find You. The complication comes when his sister-in-law, Rachel, whom he has always been fond of, visits unexpectedly and turns his world upside down. She brings evidence that his son, who would now have been about eight years old, may still be alive. She shows him a photograph of a boy at a fun park, with specific facial features that match David’s supposedly dead son, Matthew. Rachel has sought professional help from a facial recognition company which has supported her belief that this is likely a photograph of Matthew. Rachel and David meet twice in jail to form a plan of action to get to the truth behind the circumstances of what he has now come to believe: Matthew is alive. If this can be proven, David can clear his name and he can be reunited with his son.
Another factor weighing on David is that prison life has become more and more unbearable. David is being beaten in prison by other inmates because he has been found guilty of killing a child; even worse, his own son. He has tried legal appeals. Everything has failed. Rachel’s new information gives him the motivation and desperation to try something extreme: the only option left to him is to attempt to escape.
Of course, Coben’s plot follows a well-trodden path of many movies: that of the innocent prisoner who needs to escape to prove their innocence. Is escape impossible? He will first need to break out of a high security prison deemed as secure as Alcatraz once was. But I can tell you that a desperate man is capable of almost anything. Escaping is possible, even as crazy as it sounds, with the help from the most unexpected sources.
The FBI becomes involved in his manhunt as David and Rachel search for the truth by any means they can think of, including from witnesses at the trial. As they are forced to constantly elude police, David must try to find a link: something to tell him how and why such a crime could have been pulled off. Why him? Why Matthew? And who was the body in place of his son?
Of course, families have secrets, and as David gets closer to the truth, he realises more about his own family than he had even thought was possible. Will David understand what has led to this truth? And will he reach his son in time to bring him back safely?
Like any Harlan Coben book, you imagine certain things to be the case before you are led down completely another path. But one thing is always certain: you never know what to expect. I Will Find You begins as a story that follows the common trope of the ‘innocent man convicted of a crime trying to clear his name’. But Coben makes this story his own.
If you are familiar with Coben’s other thrillers you will be familiar with elements of this story. The crime that has put David wrongly into jail has its roots in past events. Victims and perpetrators represent different socio-economic classes, who have with the legal wherewithal to manipulate the system or, conversely, to be ensnared by it. Coben’s stories reflect, at the very least, a suspicion of authority and America’s legal system which is evident in some aspects of American culture. As in many American stories, this is the individual against a system which has overlooked them. These opposing interests are represented by Coben through two FBI agents who are tasked with tracking down David. The first, Special Agent Sarah Jablonski, following the rule of law, wants nothing other than to capture David and return him to prison. The second agent, Special Agent Max Burnstein, does what the system so rarely requires, which is to question. Having heard that David has returned to one of the witnesses from his own trial, he begins to suspect that there is more to David’s case than might have been initially supposed. What he finds leads him to believe that David might even be innocent.
I’ve never been disappointed by any of Coben’s thrillers, and I can confidently say that if you have read and enjoyed any of Harlan Coben’s other thrillers, then I Will Find You should be appealing. I can thoroughly recommend it.