Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Harlan-Coben-The-StrangerAbout The Stranger

March 24, 2015
#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Harlan Coben delivers his most shocking thriller yet, proving that a well-placed lie can help build a wonderful life-- and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.

About the Author

Harlan Coben is the bestselling author of sixteen previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers "Long Lost" and "Hold Tight." Winner of the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award, Coben lives in New Jersey with his family.

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher, via Netgalley, for review.]

I'm a bit divided on my thoughts regarding Harlan Coben's latest, The Stranger. On one hand, it's a crackling thriller rife with suspense, conspiracy, and a bit of small-town internecine politics. But on the other hand, I spent a lot of my reading time struggling to comprehend the motives behind, what at first felt awfully flimsy, the inciting incident revolving around the revelation of a faked pregnancy.

This secret is revealed to the husband, Adam, by The Stranger in the novel's opening pages. Adam then spends a good amount of time going back and forth on whether or not his wife, Corrine, faked her pregnancy and miscarriage, but the more he hunts for the truth the more he comes to realize that the secret is legit. After Corrine disappears and is accused of stealing money from the school's lacrosse treasury, Adam becomes desperate to find her and to uncover the truth behind the stranger.

It's a solid mystery with all kinds of twists and turns, but Coben's idea of the faked pregnancy doesn't really carry much legitimacy until very late in the novel, when we finally get a good understanding of why Corrine would go to such weird lengths. As a result, I found myself far more interested in the other secrets the stranger reveals to other families, which eventually leads to murder and puts serious emphasis on the crisis Adam finds himself in the middle of.

I also found the motives behind the stranger's actions to be nicely complex, and gives his actions some weight that readers may find themselves hard to disagree with.

What price do we pay for anonymity in the age of information, and what secrets are worth keeping? Is there more damage in hiding the truth than in confronting it head-on? These are big questions, and Coben is able to spin a tight and effective thriller, with all the various twisty threads tied up neatly.

For me, The Stranger was a solid three-star read, simply because something just felt severely off in the way Adam suspected yet rebelled against thinking the worst, and the concerns surrounding the faked pregnancy jangled my suspension of disbelief for a little too long. I think if we'd been less reliant on Adam's perspective and got to know Corrine better, and understood her motives sooner, it would have made the narrative less choppy and easier to sink into. Still, this is a perfectly serviceable thriller and compulsively readable, if not a completely perfect one.

Buy The Stranger At Amazon

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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