The Stranger
A novel by Harlan Coben
Book review by Jules Brenner
Dutton, released 3/24/15, 400 pp., $27.95
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This is another Coben mystery in which a person's world turns over in an instant, straining logic and long-held assumptions by and about a man who loves his life, his wife and two boys. He counts his blessings and considers it unchangeable.

The format follows the mold of his last novel, "Missing You" in which lonely NYPD Homicide Detective Kat Donovan, accesses eighteen years after Jeff, her ex-fiance and assumed soul mate, unceremoniously ditched her for unexplained reasons. So, why is Jeff's picture on a page of eligible bachelors, she wonders when she logs in. The answer to that is a journey that won't let up.

Similarly here, in "The Stranger."

Adam Price is is a family man. He hasn't stopped admiring the beauty of his wife, Corinne. He's immensely proud of their two sons, especially Ryan, the younger one, who is such a success on the sixth-grade lacrosse team in Cedarfield, NJ.

The monkey wrench that contorts everything Adam holds dear comes in the form of a man he's never seen before who sidles up to him in the bar at the American Legion Hall. The man identifies himself as just "the stranger" but seems to know things about Adam and Corinne that even Adam never knew; Did Adam know that his wife had faked her first pregnancy, which had turned into a miscarriage. Should Adam do a DNA test on his boys?

The fact that this is close to impossible to accept doesn't mean that Adam doesn't take the stranger's assertions seriously enough to prove them wrong. As soon as he gets home he jumps to his computer and looks up the charge record on his personal card account. Going back a few years, he finds -- like the man said -- an entry by a company called Novelty Funsy. It wasn't his charge!

This leads him to the site of the company that makes the product. The company name is, and we're into Coben's very peculiar twisted reality for a poor, unsuspecting sap.

Coben raises the suspense level with constant interruptions to Adam's line of inquiry and affairs of the family. He's itching for Corrinne to get home and when he finally gets alone with her he asks if she faked her pregnancy, a pretty bizarre thing to do... or to ask about.

She doesn't say no.

Next day she quits her teaching position at the local high school where the two boys are attending and takes off to parts unknown. Shortly thereafter, as Adam and the boys are going nuts, he receives a text message: "YOU TAKE CARE OF THE KIDS. DON'T TRY TO CONTACT ME. IT WILL BE OKAY." But it's not. Not even close. Adam's imagination is sparked by what his investigation turns up as he tries to deal with a world gone berserk

With this unique concept Coben again adds urgency to tension without slack. The mystery widens, intensifies and grows in torment. One part of the mystery leads to another, riveting our need to uncover the grotesque conspiracy against a sympathetic hero. This grip that "The Stranger" exerts on a reader becomes a challenge to put the book down.

If you don't yet own The Stranger and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.