If Myron Bolitar had had a wife it may never have happened. After seven years and seven books together, Harlan Coben dumped the crime-solving sports agent because he wasn't married. It was hard for Coben to make the break from the character whose popularity had made possible his escape from tour guide with his family's travel company to life as a full-time crime writer. But he had a great story idea that needed a wife. And Myron, who has suffered his share of heartbreak, didn't have one. So Coben cut Myron loose - and when Tell No One, the book based on that idea-with-wife, was published in 2001, Coben shot from middling success as a writer to the international big league. 'It was very freeing, once I managed to shake him off,' says the American, who was the first person to win the big three US crime writing awards - the Edgar, the Shamus and the Anthony. 'I had to get people to try reading it, and they were much more willing to try Tell No One than one about a sports agent who solves crimes.' Coben, 42, has since written three more non-Myron thrillers, each more successful than the last. The latest, Just One Look (Orion) - newly released in paperback - has fulfilled his dream for No1 status in Britain. In this latest story, Coben wrote a female lead character for the first time. Grace Lawson, once seriously injured when trampled by the crowd at a rock concert, must look for clues in the past after her husband is kidnapped. Coben says he likes to try new approaches - after breaking his earlier mould, he now doesn't want to get stuck on any particular style. 'I like to think I upped my game,' he says. On tour in Melbourne, Coben is a hot ticket. Although he's reluctant to leave his family for more than 10 days, he remembers what it was like outside the big league. 'Some writers complain about going on tour. But I remember calling my publisher and saying, 'Hey, can I get a paperclip?' and they would say, 'No, we can't do that for you'. When they mail me the first copy, it's really cool; when they mail me the cover for the first time, it's really cool. I try not to get jaded about it because I know how lucky I am.' With their four children and their home in the leafy New Jersey suburbs, Coben, a political science graduate from Amherst College, and his wife, Anne, live the kind of American dream he writes about. He even draws on his home life as real-life research. In one, his lead character is a paediatrician - as is Anne. In another, a lead character works with the homeless, like Anne. And in Just One Look, a child's poems were written by his daughters. But in Coben's hands, the fictional dream turns to nightmare. 'A lot of people are trying to do what my characters are doing, raising their families, trying to do the right thing, but trouble still seems to get them. I don't think that moving into a certain neighbourhood or accomplishing a certain goal protects you from the bad things in life.' Coben says that although these are American stories, it's the universality of his characters, their normality, that ensures their appeal in more than 30 countries in which they are best-sellers. 'What I am aiming to do is grip the reader and the rest of the stuff happens naturally. What makes it grip is that you care so much about the characters as if they are real people.' But that gripping, twist-a-minute action doesn't just happen. Coben says he's tougher on himself than any editor he's worked with, rewriting again and again. 'There are times when there is a poignant moment and I say, 'That has to go'. Is this gripping? I ask this every page. Every sentence.' Coben writes his first draft by hand in a local coffee shop - though fame has meant he's had to change cafes. 'Nobody ever bothers me but they kind of look at me. I can feel their eyes. I go to the library more.' He then reworks the story as he types it into his computer, all the time cutting anything that doesn't propel it forward. Coben is proud that, unlike writers who dump 400 pages on an editor expecting to finally publish a book of 200, his page count never varies by more than two or three pages. He's proud, too, that he approaches his work like a professional, never missing his annual deadline, never sitting around waiting for the muse to strike. 'My publisher is my boss and this is my job,' Coben says. 'Like a plumber, who can't not feel like fixing someone's pipes, I still have to write.' His next thriller - not a Myron - will be in the shops by May next year. Bur what about Myron Bolitar, left on the shelf in favour of a man with a wife? Well, not quite, Coben says. As fans discover his backlist, the Myron Bolitar series has sold more copies in the past year than in any of the years in which those first seven books were published. 'People have gone back to Myron,' he says. And Coben may too. If he has a suitable idea, he will write another Myron Bolitar book one day. 'I always start with an idea. If Myron is the best guy to tell it, OK, and if not, he will have to wait.'