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Book review: <i>The Stranger</i> by Harlan Coben

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the cover of the book

Adam Price's calm is shattered by a stranger, who approaches him at the American Legion Hall and tells him one of his wife's big secrets. Can Adam put aside his feelings about his wife and try and uncover why the stranger approached him in the first place before irrevocable damage is done?

The story

Adam Price is a regular guy, with two teenaged boys and his beautiful wife Corrine. They are a team, have built a great suburban life, and work together in all things. Until the stranger.

The stranger approaches while Adam is filling in for Corrine at the lacrosse drafts for their youngest son's sporting endeavours. Corrine is the treasurer of the lacrosse board, but is away at a teacher conference, and Adam is there to ensure Ryan's interests on the team are looked after. Corrine wants Ryan on the team, and Corrine gets what she wants. The stranger tells Adam something about Corrine, a secret. The secret is so big that it challenges everything Adam thinks he knows about Corrine, and leads him to wonder what else his wife has hidden from him. Is their whole life a lie?

When Corrine gets home from her conference, she realises something has gone wrong. When Adam confronts her, she leaves, texting him to ask for “time to think”. Adam is in a tailspin, and his sons Ryan and Thomas know something is up too. They try to wait it out, but Adam is impatient. He needs to try and work this out.

When Adam is approached by members of the lacrosse board informing him that they're looking at Corrine for embezzling out of the board's treasury, he knows something is seriously awry. Using every resource he has he tries to track down the stranger, and find his wife. But the plot thickens, then becomes deadly. Can he figure out who's behind the stranger, and why his life has been turned upside down?

The style

I feel as though perhaps I didn't give Harlan Coben any reading time because I wrote him off as a pulpy best-seller, but he's actually very good. Stylistically, The Stranger ticks all the boxes. It's excellently written. The narrative is third person limited, following Adam and his thoughts and reactions. The thing I enjoyed most about this story was the narrative, I think. The story line is good, it's solid and suspenseful and interesting, but that doesn't make a good novel. Some great story lines are sadly let down by the style. Now I know that Harlan Coben has had a pretty solid publication history, but he definitely knows what he's doing when it comes to narrative.

Adam as a character makes interesting observations, relevant and realistic. The storyline follows his considerations about relationships, his wife, and how well he really knows her. He also observes his kids, child rearing, and of course, the people around him and how suburbia operates. Thomas and Ryan, Adam's sons, are excellently written, very realistic and empathetic. The peripheral characters are less dimensional, but still well portrayed. Harlan Coben gets people, he gets society, and he gets the way people function together. He's also not jaded or an arsehole, he makes good character choices and understands the good, the bad, and the flawed in people. It's a well written thriller, this one.

Who is this book for?

I enjoyed The Stranger, having never previously read Harlan Corben. If you are a Corben fan, you'd probably really like it, because it's good. I saw it for sale at the airport when I flew recently, and if I hadn't already got it on my kindle I would have bought it immediately.

If you like this book, you would also like...

The content of The Stranger was mildly reminiscent, content wise, of Gone Girl, which I also enjoyed. They aren't that similar, but I reckon if you liked this book you'll like that one.

In short

Title: The Stranger
Author: Harlan Coben
Publisher: Dutton
ISBN: 978-0525953500
Year published: 2015
Pages: 400
Genre(s): Thriller
Review Type: