There is a good reason that Harlan Coben’s twenty-seven novels have been translated into forty-one languages all around the world; why he has been on the New York Times bestseller list seven times; and why he has won all three major US crime thriller awards: he knows how to make the perfectly mundane perfectly disturbing.
Dubbed the “master of the suburban thriller” Coben does not disappoint with his latest novel, The Stranger – a tale of white-picket fence suburbia gone wrong. Adam Price lives in Cedarfield, New Jersey – by all accounts the perfect place to raise your kids. Safe streets, a cosy downtown area with all the nice amenities, good schools and parents who show up to the various kids sports events to cheer and support. It is during one of these events – the “lacrosse draft and A-team selections”, that Adam is approached by “the stranger with important knowledge.” The “important knowledge” is a secret that Corinne, Adam’s wife, has been keeping – a secret that starts of like a small annoying buzz in Adam’s ear as he tries to rationalise the stranger’s news, but ends up ultimately busting open Adam and Corinne’s carefully constructed life.
When Adam decides to confront Corinne the ramifications of the secret take turns that are entirely unpredictable and compellingly acted out. Although we never hear from Corinne in the first person, insight into Adam and Corinne’s characters and lives are revealed at an apt pace, one bit at a time. Supporting characters – like the other suburban dads “with those white baseball T-shirts with the three-quarter sleeves and either baggy cargo shorts or perfectly no-assed Dad jeans” – make perfectly timed appearances, and drive this mystery ever onwards to its unexpected conclusion.
Corban combines the theme of the potentially explosive nature of “secrets” with an idea of the fragility of confidentiality in an age where information can most easily be accessed and used against anyone. By posing the character of the stranger as someone who professes to have an interest in “setting things right”, the question is also asked whether we are ever better-off knowing what we perhaps shouldn’t know, meaning does the truth really “set us free”?
In the case of Adam Price it is impossible to answer that question here, without giving away the excellent twists and turns that lead to the conclusion of the novel – suffice it to say that The Stranger is a novel that will keep you on your toes as you read, and make you think long and hard about what kind of secrets you have that you would never want to be revealed by a “stranger”.