Harlan Coben,
The Stranger
(Dutton, 2015)

How's this for a lead:

The Stranger didn't shatter Adam's world all at once.

You can't possibly read that sentence without reading the next one. That's what Harlan Coben is good at, getting you to read the next sentence. The Stranger is a compulsively readable book, one that will have you turning the pages long after you should have been asleep.

What will keep you up is the story of Adam Price, an ordinary suburban husband and father, a lawyer, a respected and welcome member of his community, who is told by a stranger for no apparent reason that his wife has a terrible secret. Adam checks out the tale the stranger has told, discovers that it is true and confronts his wife, who promptly disappears, sending him on a quest to find her and to find out exactly what is going on.

Naturally, as he searches, the plot grows more complicated as the stranger tells more people that their loved ones are withholding secrets from them. Most of these are blackmail attempts but Adam's was not. So, what is the connection? And why is an ex-policeman going around killing people?

Coben is fine at building the suspense. Once you've seen the plot begin to build, you have to know how it resolves, so you keep reading. What he is really good at, though, is creating the everyday rhythms and routines of upper-middle-class suburban life, the lives of people who, in the words of one of the characters, are "living the dream." The details ring true, from community meetings at the American Legion Hall to soccer games. He is fine at capturing the nuances of family life, while continuing to develop the suspense. Unfortunately, he is also given to cheap similes, such as describing a bad wine as tasting like fish ass.

Ultimately, Coben builds a plot almost too complicated; some readers might think the resolution shrinks the story, rather than enlarging it. That was my first thought on finishing the book but, as the story continued to prod the edges of my mind, I changed my mind, deciding it was appropriate.

Regardless of how you feel about the ending, you'll enjoy getting to it.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

11 July 2015

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