Book Review
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Recalling a Great Editor and Enjoying 'Stay Close'

In Memoriam:

Ashbel Green (1928-2012), known as Ash, a former vice president and beloved senior editor at Knopf, was Key West author Thomas Sanchez's editor of 42 years, his longest-standing author. Other Ash authors include Vaclav Havel, George H. W. Bush, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Ross Macdonald and Philip Caputo. "He was an editor's editor," mourned Knopf editor Gary Fisketjon. "Those kind of people are rare in any generation. The last few years weren't easy in publishing, but he made it seem easy." Adds Thomas Sanchez, ""Ash was the man considered in publishing to be the Maxwell Perkins of his time, editing so many of the important ones from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Andrei Sakharov."

The latest book from Sanchez, author of "Mile Zero" and "King Bongo," is "American Tropic," the last novel Ash edited before he died on Sept. 18.

Due in January, "American Tropic" is a book, Sanchez tells us, "that Ash was very involved with for many years and he felt it would have a profound impact in Key West.'"

Ash spent the winters of the last years of his life in Key West at Seward Johnson's "Secret Beach" at the Southernmost Point, actually the very place where Sanchez wrote the first words of "Mile Zero," 31 years ago in 1981.

We met Ash in 2008, at Seward Johnson's home, when invited to Sanchez's birthday dinner there. At that time, Sanchez was working on "American Tropic" but he and Ash kept it secret.

"Ash loved Key West," Sanchez told us last week, "plus the fact that 'American Tropic' takes a stand against commercial corruption of the natural habitat."

"American Tropic," first announced locally in Solares Hill's On the Bookshelf ("Sanchez on the Powerboat Races," Sept. 9) is out on Jan. 15, 2013.

Thomas Sanchez is a descendant of cattlemen dating back four generations in California, back to the Gold Rush. He was born days after his father was killed at the age of 21 in the Battle of Tarawa during World War II. Sanchez's novels have received numerous honors and he has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and is a Chevalier of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Sanchez is also the director of a forthcoming film documentary, "Into The Light," chronicling the life of Jack Garfein, survivor of 11 concentration camps, Actors Studio icon and legendary film director.

Sanchez divides his time between San Francisco, Key West and Paris.

-- Mark Howell

"Stay Close" by Harlan Coben (Dutton, $27.95)

In March we had the opportunity once again to see Harlan Coben at the Vero Beach Book Center. He was there to promote his 22nd novel, "Stay Close." The first time we met him in person, we found him to be as entertaining as his novels and this latest experience was equally entertaining. He shared his life experiences and future plans with good humor, including a grand imitation of his teenage daughter's reaction to seeing her bald-headed father's picture in the New York Times -- "Eeeuuw"!

Like most of Coben's novels, "Stay Close" has a complex plot based on psychological experiences set in domestic suspense with sardonic humor. It tells the story of three people whose lives are haunted by and interwoven due to the result of a single crime. As the plot unfolds, however, one begins to wonder if this really was a single crime or a crime within a series of similar crimes.

The single crime at the center of the story is the disappearance of a strip-club habitué, Stewart Green, in Atlantic City. Although Green's body has never been found, two of three individuals drawn to this event briefly saw his bloody corpse. When by chance the two reunite after almost two decades, they discover that each believed the other was involved in the death of Green. The third person, a detective who's been unable to solve the crime but is seeking closure to the case, has found a pattern that points to a possible serial killer in a series of crimes committed on the same day of the year.

This unlikely trio consists of Megan Pierce, a soccer mom with a dark past who lives in the upscale suburbs with her husband and two children; Ray Levine, a once-respected photojournalist who's now a heavy-drinking paparazzo-for-hire and Megan's former lover when she worked as a stripper called Cassie; and Detective Broome, who as a result of a serial-killer investigation, is fervently committed to solve a crime involving Megan and Ray.

Coben draws into this stand-alone novel people who have achieved the American dream, like Megan, but in their journey have found how fragile that dream is and how difficult it is to hold onto. In addition to the complex protagonists, "Stay Close" also has several secondary characters such as Megan's mother-in-law and two sadistic killers-for-hire who go by the names of Ken and Barbie.

He has chosen the location of Atlantic City as the predominant setting for the novel because, Coben told us, "I wanted a place where the sleaze is right next to the suburbs."

"Stay Close" is an exceptional novel by an entertaining author who's woven a thriller with an unexpected ending.

-- Reviewed by David and Nancy Beckwith