“People from Ridgewood say it’s definitely Ridgewood,” he said. “People from Livingston say it’s definitely Livingston. People from West Orange and Chatham and Westfield — they’re all in there.” And, on Page 300 of “Don’t Let Go,” a “dumpy no-tell” in East Orange.
Mr. Coben remembers a Livingston that was changing from “farmland to classic American split-levels, which is what I grew up in.” And, as he wrote in “Don’t Let Go,” he grew up with two legends: that a “notorious Mafia leader lived in a baronial mansion” and that a Nike missile base was right next door.
“I found that both were true,” he said on the way to the former Nike base.
The mob boss was Ruggiero (Richie the Boot) Boiardo, the long-lived patriarch of organized crime in North Jersey. One book about the mob described him as “a bruiser who modeled himself after Al Capone.” A federal judge described him as “societal scum.” He was said to have been an inspiration for Tony Soprano in the HBO series.
As for the mansion, a Life magazine piece identified the architecture as “Transylvania traditional.” Rumor had it that an incinerator out back was “where they burned the bodies,” Mr. Coben said.
“Think how strange that is,” he said. “A military base next to a leading mobster’s house. No wonder this town is inspiring.”
What he finds on the fringes of the former base is also unsettling. In the woods are concrete towers with rusted underpinnings, apparently platforms for the long-ago radar installations.
“You could see the shooting in the book right here,” he said.
So much for spoiler alerts. Yes, there is a shooting in the book — more than one, in fact. But the shooting Mr. Coben is referring to is definitely fiction, according to Donald E. Bender, an amateur expert on Nike bases who also grew up here.
“Oh, gosh,” Mr. Bender said when asked if anyone had ever been killed on the grounds of the Nike base. “Livingston’s not a particularly violent town.”
Like Mr. Coben, he remembered seeing, from a distance, a white radome at the base. It sat atop the hill like a giant golf ball. Like Mr. Coben, he did not know much about the base when he was growing up. He did not start digging for information about Nike bases until about 20 years ago, after he discovered documents about a base in Franklin Lakes, about 30 miles away. Mr. Coben thanked him in the acknowledgments of “Don’t Let…