Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

thestrangerAdam Price is a tool. I don’t mean that the character is not likable; I mean he’s a writing device used to advance a storyline.

In Harlan Coben’s latest novel, the titular stranger shakes attorney and father of two Adam’s world by divulging a secret Price’s wife Corinne has been keeping. When Adam confronts Corinne with what he has learned, she disappears, leaving a only a text message, “YOU TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS. DON’T TRY TO CONTACT ME. IT WILL BE OKAY.”

Adam begins searching for Corinne while slowly piecing together the reality of his wife’s life. He discovers the stranger also has revealed devastating information to Heidi Dann, a middle-aged woman with a family in Beachwood, Ohio, and Michaela Siegel, a medical student in New York City. When Dann is murdered, Adam’s fears intensify.

When I started the opening chapter of The Stranger, I got that happy feeling I get whenever I read Harlan Coben’s books. I was hooked the first time I read Deal Breaker (1995), and I have been fortunate enough to attend several of Coben’s book signings. I can report he is clever and funny in person, as well as in print. Unfortunately, while the voice was the same, I could not manage the emotional connection I feel with Coben’s prior novels.

I have heard Coben say that, when he starts writing, he knows the beginning and the end, but he does not know what the path will be from point A to Point B and he does not generally write an outline upfront. Nevertheless, in 2014, Harlan Coben’s Missing You gave me pause. It seemed a bit too tightly crafted, as though the author had said to himself, “Hmmm . . .I read about this nifty writing technique. Let’s experiment with it.” With The Stranger, Coben delivers another novel that feels as though it were written for homework assigned in a creative writing class. Even if he truly does not know the route he will follow, I suspect Coben has consciously chosen his means of travel.

I am going to put The Stranger away on a high shelf and, when Harlan Coben’s next novel is published, I will rush to read it, hoping to find a renewal of the originality, humor, and artlessness I grew to love in his books. If that means some time before a new book is published, so be it.   Another truly good Harlan Coben novel would be worth the wait.

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; First Edition edition (March 24, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953500