“A stay-up-late-until-you-finish thriller that is one of Harlan Coben’s best.”
The Stranger hits the soft spot of human fears: the secrets no one wants reveals, especially those that pose a threat to family.
Adam Price is drinking a beer in the American Legion Hall, which is as close to slumming as anyone gets in the upper middle class town of Cedarfield, New Jersey, while waiting for the draft of players for the youth Lacrosse team. He reflects on his life, and admits that without really intending to, he is the embodiment of the American Dream.
Then The Stranger spoke to him, quietly, nonthreatening, a man intent on doing the right thing. “Adam somehow knew right away, right from the very first sentence, that the life he had known as a content suburban married father of two was forever gone . . . nothing would ever be the same.”
The Stranger tells Adam that Corinne, his wife of 18 years, lied about her recent pregnancy and miscarriage. Corinne was never pregnant; it was all a ruse. “It was right then that Adam felt some kind of switch go off in his chest, as if someone had tripped the red digital timer on some movie bomb and now it had started to tick down.”
When Adam confronts Corinne about her false pregnancy, she promises him to explain the next day at dinner. Instead, Corinne disappears, texting Adam that they need time apart and to take care of the kids in her absence. She also tells him not to try to contact her.
Adam is shocked, but not yet panicked. Then he learns from his Internet search that Corinne has not used her credit cards and has withdrawn very little money from the bank. She will not answer his calls or texts, her cell phone immediately going to voice mail.
As an attorney and former public defender, Adam knows that if he reports Corinne as a missing person and explains their argument, the police will either believe she ran away and will be back, or that her disappearance is suspicious. In a town as small as Cedarfield, everyone will learn of Corinne’s deceit, including their two sons.
Adam intends to shield his two sons from knowing the circumstances of his argument with Corinne as long possible. But secrets, once told, have a way of spreading like a noxious fog.
Soon the police come calling to reveal another secret that Corinne had kept from him. Money is missing from the lacrosse youth league accounts that Corinne oversees, and her colleagues on the league’s Board of Directors tell Adam they have proof that Corinne embezzled the funds.
With the aid of a tech savvy client, Adam investigates Corinne’s recent Internet activity and questions her friends about her behavior. Soon he has a trail to follow, several in fact, and he learns that he and Corinne are not the only victims of The Stranger.
Like a virus The Stranger whispers secrets, devastating secrets, to more people. One target is Heidi Dann, happily married with three children. Approached in a restaurant parking lot by the Stranger, Heidi learns a secret she does not want to know.
Never one to ignore what must be confronted, Heidi follows up on her new knowledge. She makes a phone call that confirms the horrible secret The Stranger has revealed is true. The next day Heidi is dead, murdered supposedly during a break in.
Besides ruining lives by revealing secrets, now The Stranger has brought death. The question is why. Is one of his victims exacting revenge, or have Heidi’s and Adam’s actions triggered some unintended chain of events?
The Stranger by Harlan Coben has a breakneck narrative pace and a plot that shows how quickly the American Dream can turn into a nightmare. It reveals how closely the Internet can resemble the serpent in the Garden of Eden, dissembling knowledge to provoke discord.