REVIEW: Harlan Coben’s ‘The Five’ gets off to solid start
Harlan Coben is one of the world’s most acclaimed thriller novelists. He has won the praise of critics, written eight consecutive bestsellers and in 1997 became the first mystery writer to receive all three of the prestigious mystery writing awards – an Edgar Award, a Shamus Award and an Anthony Award.
Now Coben has turned his attention to the small screen with new series ‘The Five‘, which premieres on Sky 1 on Friday at 9pm. The Five is a television-exclusive story from Coben, who promises something extraordinary from the series: “I didn’t just want to make any TV show. I wanted to make something legendary.”
When a man of his credentials makes a move into television, we critics sit up and watch – admittedly eager for a misstep, but ultimately hoping that the world of television will be made that much brighter. The Five is what we hoped for and what Coben’s books regularly deliver: a fast-paced thriller, chock-a-block full of twists and turns that kept us hooked until the end (or, to the end of the four episodes offered to journalists for advance viewing – now I wait as eagerly for the rest of the series as I suspect the public will).
The premise is fairly simple. Twenty years prior to the start of the series, a group of friends were looking after one of their group’s five-year-old brother Jesse. They were mean to him and the boy fled into the woods, never to be seen again. Now in their thirties, Danny, Mark, Slade and Pru have lived with the guilt of what happened all of their lives, but everything changes when Jesse’s DNA is found at the scene of a recent murder investigation. Is Jesse alive? Where has he been all this time? And why is his blood in the home of a murdered woman?
It’s simple, but effective. Every time I thought I knew where the episodes were going, and indeed, where the series was going, I felt the floor removed from under my feet in the most casual of manner. The Five is very hard to predict. It makes it utterly compelling. Add some extremely well executed hooks at the end of each episode (and often before an ad break), and it adheres perfectly to the recipe of a good thriller.
Danny, Mark, Slade and Pru are all three-dimensional characters who require a bit of thought to always understanding their motives. The Five expertly peels back layers and layers about what really happened that fateful day twenty years ago and how it has affected every one of them. There’s no weak performance from the cast either, which is a blessing.
The Five is clearly an ambitious series, and although it delivers in terms of story and characters, there are moments when it goes over the top with its production. While on occasion the atmospheric music is spot on, in general it is loud and overbearing, which dampens the impact of the forthcoming thrill. The brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-them flashbacks are confusing and disjointed, which only makes sense when they belong to certain characters rather than nearly all.
However, it’s easy to overlook these complaints in sight of the bigger picture. The Five is what we wish every crime writer would create for television – a masterful handling of the conventions of storytelling and genre to keep audiences on their feet and wanting more.