'The Stranger' Is Not Up to Coben's Standards

03/25/2015 08:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2015

Book Review - Jackie K Cooper
The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben is an author who possesses extreme talent in telling tales of suspense. His list of successful novels of this sort is huge. Sometimes, however, even the most talented have an off day and this is the case with Coben's latest novel The Stranger. The new book is good and suspenseful and enjoyable, but compared with the best of Coben it is second rate. Blame the author; he set the standard too high.

Once again Coben adopts a Hitchcockian style of story as he has an ordinary man caught up in nefarious happenings. This average Joe, named Adam Price, is living the good life in suburbia. He has a loving wife and two great sons. He earns a good living and is in good health. What more could he want!

Into this Garden of Eden comes a serpent who is known in the book as "the stranger." This stranger sidles up to Adam at a soccer meeting and tells him some outrageous things about his wife. Adam professes complete disbelief but the seeds of doubt have been sown. Later when he confronts his wife there s an argument and soon thereafter his wife disappears.

The rest of the book concerns Adam's search for his wife while trying to cope with being a good father to his sons. He enlists the help of a retired cop and a policewoman from another town. But even they cannot keep him safe from the dangers that lurk along the path of finding his wife.

Coben's talents are at the fore as he creates characters who demand our attention and our loyalty. Adam is a good man who seems to be a little foolhardy at times. Instead of keeping the safety of his sons at the forefront he takes unnecessary risks that could leave these boys with neither parent. Readers of this story who have children might wish he was more concerned parent than skeptical spouse.

There is also a lack of total suspense in this story. In other Coben books the reader can barely read fast enough to keep up with the danger and dread that fill the pages. In The Stranger you feel real concern for Adam and his wife but it is not a situation that creates pulse pounding excitement.

Any Harlan Coben novel is bound to be a good read, and this one is. But for a lot of Coben fans good is not enough. They want and expect it to be better than good and that is what happened in this case. The Stranger isn't pure Coben but rather seems to be by an author who is trying to imitate Coben.

The Stranger is published by Dutton. It contains 400 pages and sells for $27.95.

Jackie K Cooper