Harlan Coben’s latest, The Stranger, is so like the author’s earlier books that, as I read, I kept confusing plots. The hero, a lawyer named Adam who has his safe suburban world upended by the eponymous stranger, is interchangeable with the heroes of Hold Tight (a much better book) and Caught, just to pick two. Adam is a good man, a modern hero who loves his children, his wife, and sticks up for the little guy. His musings on the capriciousness and cruelty of life are smart and winning.
Adam is watching his eldest son play a stellar game of lacrosse when a man he’s never met comes up and tells him Adam’s wife Corrine, whom Adam loves in the way that admirable husbands love their wives, faked her last pregnancy–it ended in a miscarriage, or so Corrine said. Adam senses the man’s revelation is the truth and so he confronts Corrine about it later that night. The next day, Corrine vanishes–she sends Adam a text saying she just needs some time away. Adam begins to try and solve the mystery of why Corrine lied and, as he does, he slowly uncovers… well, I’ll let you read the book for yourself.
If you’re looking for a mindless mystery–this book should have come with the subtitle Beach Read–The Stranger fits the bill. I read the whole thing in under 48 hours and am not here to complain I wasted my time. That said, when I’d finished, I fretted.
Coben can usually be counted on as a man who doesn’t write sexist thrillers. His leads are routinely women. In most of his books, those who make the biggest errors are arrogant white males. But this book felt a bit like the Disney version of a Coben novel. Only women die, and those who aren’t victims–with one exception–are cardboard characters useful only as a tool for the men around them.
The plot doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and the ending is so rushed I had a hard time believing I’d reached the story’s end. It is not, by any stretch, my favorite by Mr. Coben. Still, even a mediocre book by Mr. Coben is better than most mainstream thrillers. His insights about white suburban life are keen and few write more convincingly about the relentless love parents have for their children.