Friday, April 10, 2015

'The Stranger' is a Bit Stranger than Other Harlan Coben Thrillers, but Still a Worthy Page-Turner -- Book Review

Book Review

The Stranger
by Harlan Coben
now in Hardcover and eBook

Even without the likelihood that the handful of people who visit this blog with great regularity know me well in-person, consistent Seth Saith readers have likely picked up on subjects I write about rather repeatedly.

Cherished concert performers like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam have been reviewed here several times each, my recent glowing review of a Les Misérables production was far from my first, and I have rarely missed an opportunity to sing the praises of Stephen Sondheim or the musicals he created.

Being not such a prolific reader, Book Reviews are somewhat few and far between, and more than not have covered page turners from my two favorite thriller writers, Harlan Coben and Lee Child.

On this blog, over the past 5+ years, I've reviewed at least 3 of each writer's books, though it looks I didn't write-up either of their 2014 releases, although I read and liked them.

So while this post is about Coben's latest hardcover release (I read it on Kindle), The Stranger, which I liked, particularly for the sake of my friend Dave who prefers paperback editions, I'll note that 2014's Missing You is now out in paperback.

And I liked it even more than The Stranger

Both of the books are stand-alone mysteries, as opposed to the books Coben writes around recurring character Myron Bolitar, or now, aiming at the popular Young Adult market, Myron's nephew Mickey Bolitar.

I have not read any of his YA titles--not to be confused with Y.A. Tittle--but have otherwise read every book Harlen Coben has published.

Certainly, I've liked some better than others, but not only do they become largely indistinguishable in my memory after a year or two, but every single one has been a quick, well-within-a-week read.

I'm not confusing Coben's thrillers with great literature, or proclaiming him a purveyor of high art, but the fact that each of his books has inspired me to read it quickly--as have Lee Child's Jack Reacher stories--is no inestimable accomplishment.

For as noted above, I am not generally a rapid or vociferous reader.

So while Coben takes a somewhat new tack in his set-up for The Stranger, and winds up somewhere unusual, I can't deny turning the pages with ceaseless anticipation.

Based in New Jersey, as almost all of Coben's books are, the storyline opens with a married lawyer named Adam Price being told something troubling about his wife by a complete stranger.

This sets off a series of conversations, confrontations and events best left for anyone so inclined to uncover themselves.

While the narrative certainly kept me ensnared, and left me surprised, making this a @@@@ (out of 5) work I would recommend to anyone looking for a good, fast-paced thriller, a couple things left me less infatuated than I have been by other Coben works.

The core plot device, regarding the stranger who approaches the protagonist--and his reasons for doing so--just struck me as somewhat implausible. I have all the regard in the world for a writer like Coben having to come up with new angles in churning out a book or more per year, but something about this one just didn't feel as finely-tuned or compelling as others, which largely cover similar ground about family members or loved ones who go missing.

But also, part of why I like Coben's writing so much is that beyond penning expeditiously page-turning plots, he typically offers a number of observant and/or humorous insights along the way, about modern society, technology, cultural inconsistencies, etc.

There is definitely a bit of this in The Stranger, but again, not as much as I previously recall.

If, like me, you're a Coben devotee, there's no reason to skip The Stranger, and for the right price--including free from your local library--it's a respectable read for anyone.

Yet for Dave, and others who understandably prefer the cost and convenience of paperback, not only does the format of Missing You make it a logical next Coben read over The Stranger, qualitatively--IMO--it does as well.

Missing You revolves around a female cop named Kat Donovan who sees a long-lost ex-fiancé on an online dating site and reaches out, thereby prompting a search that drives the narrative.

If you've never read any Harlan Coben, Missing You isn't a bad place to start, nor is The Stranger for that matter. But I think I would most recommend early stand-alone thrillers, Tell No One and Gone for Good, and any of the Myron Bolitar books, perhaps starting with the first one, Deal Breaker.

As reviewed here, I also really liked 2013's Six Years, which should be even less expensive in used paperback and on Kindle, as well as more immediately available at your local library or through the OverDrive e-book library app.

Even if not quite Coben's best, The Stranger was a fast, fun reminder of how much I enjoy my favorite contemporary author, at least in a thriller vein. And his--and Child's--books often jump-start my often all-too-languid reading, which is now focused on a book named by one source as the best of this decade, so far.

So perhaps another, more unique book review won't be all that far off. Not that, when it comes to my favorite things, I really mind being repetitive.

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