Coben’s “The Stranger” is Very Strange – and Not Very Good

The Stranger Book CoverI just finished Harlan Coben‘s newest novel, The Stranger (Dutton, 2015).

I wish I were more enthusiastic.  Always a master mystery storyteller, I have always greatly anticipated the release of each of his books.  As always, this book hit the fiction best-seller lists, but quickly dropped out.  Today, it stands as the 75th best-selling overall book on the list.

If you don’t know anything about him, I found this biographical sketch on  “With over 60 million books in print worldwide, Harlan Coben’s last seven consecutive novels, HarlanCobenPictureMISSING YOU, SIX YEARS, STAY CLOSE, LIVE WIRE, CAUGHT, LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT all debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and lists around the world. His books are published in 43 languages around the globe. Coben is the winner of the Edgar Award, Shamus Award and Anthony Award – the first author to win all three – and he has received an eclectic variety of honors from all over the world. His novel TELL NO ONE has been turned into a hit French film of the same name. His essays and columns have appeared in many top publications. Harlan was born in Newark, New Jersey. He still lives in New Jersey with his wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben MD, a pediatrician, and their four children.”

The story is set in the internet-based world of anonymity, involving a central character (“the stranger”) whom you may not be able to decide is doing right or doing wrong.  Of course, when two murders are involved, your decision may not be that hard to make.  The story is highly domestic, with lots of teenage sports, microwaved dinners, and dull family dialogue that slows the book down throughout.  And, the ending of the book is not only predictable, but very disappointing.  Even I am not so sour to spoil it for you.  But, write me if you were surprised.

Perhaps authors such as Coben are just writing too fast in order to satisfy publishing demands to get into the marketplace.  This one is simply not well-crafted, well-written, or even very suspenseful.  I don’t think I would label this even as a mystery.  Actually, I’m not sure what it is.

Just to be certain that I was not out of line, I checked out consumer reviews on  I read a few highlights from true Coben fans, who would love his book no matter what it did.  And, I read many more who felt the same way that I did.  In fact, some had the same complaints that I had.

I won’t give up on him.  I will buy his next book.  But, I hope it is awhile until it hits the stores.  Next time, I hope he takes his time, lets the story cool, and gets back to greatness.




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