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The Stranger is the latest novel written by Harlan Coben, one of my favorite thriller and mystery authors. It is a standalone novel, not part of his two popular Bolitar series. To be honest, while I enjoy reading his series, I do prefer his standalone books. It’s what got me hooked on author’s books in the first place.
The story revolves around Adam Price, a lawyer, a happily married man to Corinne and father of two children who lives a nice, comfortable life in the suburbs. Right until he meets a stranger at a bar (the way many jokes start) who tells him that his wife is keeping a marriage destroying secret from him.
A secret which he now can’t get out of his mind, so he starts investigating. And the more he investigates, the more he begins distrusting his wife, who after he confronts her, disappears without a trace, leaving only a cryptic note behind. Is she really guilty and ran away, or something more sinister has happened with her?
While Adam is investigating his family secrets, the stranger is merrily going on his family destroying spree. We get to see more about him and his reasons while he approaches various people telling them similar shattering stories about close family member keeping life destroying secret from their loved ones.
For some of these people the secrets turn out to be deadly ones.
There are lots of twists and turns in the book, a lot of conspiracy, and Adam is right into the middle of all this. The story is unique, albeit it seems a bit slower going than other of Harlan Coben’s books. However I found the pacing just right. The tension is built up gradually, the author stays a lot with Adam and his transition through various emotions from disbelief to confusion to mistrust to anger to decision of finding out the truth no matter what, even though it turns out he is rather ill equipped to do so.
While the action is a bit less prominent, the psychological tension and suspense is all there, making us feel everything the main players are going through. The more you read the more you are reminded that the ‘big brother’ watching your moves and that is an uncomfortable feeling, one that is a great reminder to never forget.
In addition we are left to reflect on some hard questions regarding the price we pay for anonymity and the reasons for keeping secrets. Do they hurt or protect us?
I started to read the book one afternoon and I stayed up till late at night to finish it. All Harlan Coben’s books do this to me. I have to read them all in one sitting. That’s why I love his books so much. There is not one superfluous page, everything is there for a reason, and the reason is to captivate and engage your full attention, which it does so brilliantly.
The story kept me guessing throughout and whenever I thought ‘aha I figured it out’, it turned out I fell for yet another expertly placed red herring, with just enough information shared to put you on a wrong path. I hate books where you figure out whodunit in the first few chapters. Here this was not the case.
My only critique – if it is considered that – is the ending. I found it a bit too neatly tied up considering the confusion that was present throughout the rest of the book. However it didn’t stop me from giving it 5 stars because once again Harlan Coben didn’t let me down. The Stranger is a satisfying thriller with enough action to keep the adrenaline junkies hooked as well.