I hate to say it, but most of the time I find myself beginning a novel, only to finish the first chapter and think, “There’s nothing new here. Same old story, just different character names.” This might explain why I start five or six books at a time and find it a chore to finish any of them.
But this month, I found a novel that kept me turning pages, eager to know what would happen next.
The Stranger by Harlan Coben was a recommendation by a blogger buddy, Stephanie Faris. When I read her review, I immediately bought the book on Amazon, but it’s taken me several months to actually read it.
This story is riveting in the same way as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.It starts out with the main character, Adam Price, having a conversation in a bar with a stranger. The stranger knows a lot about his life. He even knows about Adam’s wife and her miscarriage. And then he plants the seed in Adam’s mind that germinates into doubt: “Did your wife fake her pregnancy?” Adam initially dismisses the idea, but after talking to the stranger, he can’t shake the possibility. This possibility grows into mistrust, and Adam digs a little deeper into his wife’s life only to learn devastating information about his own marriage.
The stranger is a fascinating character. For most of the book, it is unclear who he is or why he’s doing what he’s doing. He plants suspicion with the power of suggestion, and then he disappears, leaving the recipient of the information in a whirlwind of emotion and fear.
The setting is relatable—a suburbia full of soccer moms and involved dads. It’s a voyeuristic peek into neighbor’s houses as they sort through their spouse’s secrets, their children’s dangerous activities, and their own weak, self-created mirage of perfection.
Harlan Coben creates suspense on every page, but it’s not fill-in-the-template, formulaic kind of suspense. It’s original, fresh, and unique. There’s an eeriness to the story without being over the top, and three-quarters of the way into the story, it's hard to know what is going to happen or how it will end.
I love the tag line from Amazon: “The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.”