The Stranger by Harlan Coben © 2015 Orion
Kicking and Screaming meets Goodfellas. I’ve read half a dozen Coben books, and this is the first one I didn’t like. Stranger’s villains are computer hackers who, for a fee, uncover and then reveal compromising personal secrets obtained from the internet. One such hacker-stranger reveals to Adam Price a secret about his wife (a faked pregnancy, completely out of character for her, but just go with it) that leads to her disappearance and then to Adam’s desperate race to find her and to uncover the identity of the secret-blabbing stranger. Adam’s quest ends up uncovering who hired the hackers in the first place.
The Prices, Mrs. Price in particular, are uber-involved in their son’s little league lacrosse team, and you can tell from the get-go the plot will come back to this. We all know parents can be way too invested in their child’s sports “career.” I’ve been guilty of that, and Coben plays on the common experience. Having sports parents pay huge sums to backstab one of their own and even resort to murder could have been a darkly humorous social comment, but Coben didn’t play it that way. Stranger is Brutal, and therefore discordant with the Will Farrell-esque setup. Coben forced a murder story into the wrong setting.
I also had a tough time accepting why these computer geniuses needed to destroy lives to make a buck. Coben tried to account for this by giving the hackers a moral-policemen philosophy, which only made their characters harder to fathom, ergo, believe.
A side plot involving another of the hackers’ victims was more interesting than the Prices’ dilemma, but the main plot and side plot only intersected to put Adam in the paths of bullets meant for the hackers and to force him to kill someone who wasn’t his enemy in the first place.
So, Harlan Coben usually, but not always, writes a fun, tongue-in-cheekish thriller. His batting average is better than Stephen King’s lately. Stranger is in the bin, but I’ll give Harlan another chance.