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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review of "The Stranger" by Harlan Coben

2 Stars

I have heard of Harlan Coben but never read any of his books, so I finally decided to read his latest.  It was a disappointment.  I don’t know why he is so highly regarded by so many readers.

Adam Price learns from a young stranger that his wife lied to him about something significant a couple of years earlier.  Adam confronts Corinne but before she can give him a complete explanation, she vanishes.  Adam sets out to find her on his own, but soon other secrets about Corinne emerge and eventually the police become involved. 

The opening certainly caught my attention.  The inciting incident (being told a secret kept hidden by a loved one) is interesting, but shortly after that I started rolling my eyes at the improbable events.

Adam is a lawyer and so would have investigative resources at his disposal, but he chooses to go solo.  He does things he would warn a client never to do.  When his wife goes missing, he doesn’t seem to be particularly worried and, though he claims to know her so well, he accepts strange behaviour on her part as natural?  He lacks personality so it was difficult to identify with him.

There are other characterization issues.  Corinne we get to know only through Adam and through accusations made against her, so the ending does not have the impact it should.  Adam and Corinne’s two sons, Ryan and Thomas, don’t behave convincingly:  their mother is missing yet they just carry on as normal.  Then there are so many minor characters, none of whom is really developed, that it is difficult to differentiate among them. 

Then there’s the plot.  I expect plot twists, but there are just too many coincidences.  So many people are simultaneously looking for one person, all for different reasons?  Johanna, a police chief from Ohio, travels to New Jersey “on [her] own dime” to question Adam.  She leaves, but then is back at a crucial moment to assist Adam?  Actually, she charges in more than once!  And the incident at the log cabin in Pennsylvania is just not believable.

Adam may wish he had never met the stranger, and I too am left wishing I had not met The Stranger.  Weak character development and improbable events are not the elements of a good book.