Just as Dan Brown spawned an army of copycats penning pseudo-religious mystery novels featuring secret societies and hidden ancient truths, so Harlan Coben's success seems to have triggered an avalanche of novels in which the central theme is one of seemingly ordinary people having to deal with utterly extraordinary events that turn their lives upside down.
It's a relatively simple formula, but devilishly difficult to pull off, relying as it does on the maintenance of nerve-shredding tension over 300 pages as well as making the implausible seem credible. Coben's first stand alone novel, Tell No One, is the best example of this I have ever come across and although he has written one or two since that have been very good, none have quite been the perfect 4am-page-turner that that was.
Of those who have followed in his foosteps, whether deliberately or not, Canadian author Linwood Barclay - Too Close to Home and No Time for Goodbye - has come the closest to writing the perfect page turner.
On the basis of Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, American author C.J. Box is a contender for the "keep you up all night" sweepstakes.
Three Weeks, which was published in the UK last month by Corvus, tells the story of Jack and Melissa McGuane, who are told at the beginning of the story that they are to lose their adopted daughter on a legal technicality to her biological father nine months after taking her in. The couple are, naturally, devastated. After the shock wears off, however, and on meeting the wastrel 18-year-old father of Angelina they decide to fight back, despite the fact they know they have no legal redress.
What matters most in these "ordinary - extraordinary" stories is the quality of the hook and Box has a good one. What parent would not fight for their child? What reader could fail to sympathise with their plight?
And if the characters are not developed as fully as they might be? Or the story disappears up the odd strange blind alley? So what. Box keeps the narrative rattling along at a good rate and cleverly draws together the strands to a tense standoff.
Three Weeks is a good suspense novel. And even if it's not Tell No One great, it's well worth a look. Just don't start too late on a night you need sleep. You might never get it.
* As an aside, check out Box's piece in the Guardian about US novellists who "own" their patch: "From Carl Hiaasen's Florida to Sara Paretsky's Chicago, novelist CJ Box identifies the US's best criminal tour guides."