The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Synopsis

“The stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. Their identity is unknown. Their motives are unclear. Their information is undeniable. Then they whisper a few words in your ear and disappear, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world….

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives–it will end them.”

-Synopsis from Goodreads

Review

Cover of The Stranger by Harlan Coben
Cover image from Goodreads

Last year I read Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben and really enjoyed it. When I saw that The Stranger was on Netflix, I immediately added it to my TBR with the plan to read the book and then watch the show. The premise of the story sounded interesting and I figured this would be a good thriller to keep me occupied for a couple days.

It ended up taking me longer than usual to finish The Stranger and you know what that means! If a book isn’t grabbing me, I end up choosing not to pick it up. So it took me five days to get through it.

*light spoilers ahead*

This book started off strong for me. The stranger appears and drops a bomb on Adam Price which calls his entire life into question. But what followed were very long and detailed (read: boring) chapters about the domestic life of Cederfield, New Jersey. I kept wanting to return to the action and the suspense but every time it was there, it would disappear by the end of a chapter, and then there would be several chapters explaining various aspects of life in suburbia (PTA meetings, sports practices, how to get kids to do homework) that I don’t find interesting to read about.

To a certain extent, the reader has to get a sense of life in Cederfield to relate to the bigger picture. But I don’t think we needed the amount of details that were given. Maybe it’s assuming too much but I think most readers will have a pretty good grasp of not just of what suburban life looks like, but of the overdone concept that everything in suburbia is not what it appears to be.

This was a huge part of why I think there was not an OMG moment for me in this book. I wasn’t surprised by the crimes going on in Cederfield nor was I surprised by who was involved. It was predictable and I was waiting to see what the real big moment was, but I was let down when that seemed to be it.

The other aspect of the story that dragged for me was the chapters that focused on the other people the stranger was visiting. Those chapters would pop up out of nowhere and be confusing as I tried to orient myself as to who was talking and how it related to Adam (it usually didn’t).

I thought it would have been more interesting to have the stranger visiting people in Cederfield rather than across the country, to add to the sense of paranoia that Adam and the others started to feel. Without the proximity, I couldn’t find the connection to the bigger story.

Maybe this was intentional, but without being able to even vaguely connect the dots, I kind of zoned out during the chapters with the other characters, assuming that they were only there to showcase what the stranger does.

As it turns out, the more I learned about the stranger, the less interested I became in him. The concept behind what the stranger does and the “why” of it wasn’t earth-shattering to me and the connections to the victims seemed predictable.

By the last third or so of the book I was just reading to find out what happened to Corrine. Once I found out, I was yet again not feeling the shock that I wanted to.

The other minor issues I had were with the dialogue and character names. The dialogue was not realistic and was often disjointed which made it hard to follow who was talking. As far as character names, they were way too easy to forget (Adam, Bob, Chris) and I realize that’s a personal issue but when I see names like that I forget them instantly. I honestly couldn’t remember which of Adam’s kids was the oldest because their names were Ryan and (I think?) Thomas – see, I can’t even remember their names – and their characteristics were so cliche that I zoned out whenever they started talking (or “whining” as it was so often described).

I don’t really know what to make of this book. Will I read another Harlan Coben book? Sure. From what I can tell on Goodreads, this simply wasn’t his best work. On the whole, it was easy to read and moderately suspenseful and I didn’t dislike it, I just wanted more and was underwhelmed.

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