The Stranger is one of Harlan Coban’s stand-alone novels, completely separate from his Myron Bolitar series. This follows a middle-aged guy – Adam, father to two boys, married, successful job, living in a quaint little town where they’re heavily involved in their sons’ lives and have a tight little network of similar family units around them.
One day, at a sports meeting to ensure his kid makes it to the team, he is accosted by The Stranger. Who tells him to check his bank reports if he doesn’t believe him, but his wife faked a pregnancy – the one two or so years back, right when his eyes were about to stray. He does, and sure enough a charge to a certain type of website is right there. And when he confronts his wife about it, she doesn’t deny anything – she seems resigned to the fact he’s found out, and she takes off for a few days to sort her head out, leaving him with the ‘kids’, as she calls them in a text. Watch for that clue later.
In other lives unrelated to Adam, this Stranger is going up to them, too, telling them of their child who’s making money through a site that hooks them up with ‘Sugar Daddies’, and another who — oh, well, I already can’t remember any of the other tales. But everyone has dark secrets, and The Stranger reveals them to those who matter, or he demands money off them to keep their secret.
Adam runs into another woman who’s been effected by this guy, and together they start to pull together the pieces of who this Stranger is, why he’s doing this, and, as the days pass and contact with his wife is still non-existent, where the hell she’s gone to. And then stuff happens, and the end of the book comes about, and in true Coben fashion it’s a complicated ending you couldn’t quite guess as the reader, but in this particular case, it fell rather flat to me. Almost as though he hadn’t really known what the big reveal would be at the start, but was sure to leave a wide opening for him to make it almost anything. I didn’t feel the characters acted realistically, and the whole thing felt pretty flawed, especially the guy who was in it for the money because of his sick child – not enough time was invested to make us remember that he existed, or that it was honest, or to make us give a damn.
Overall this isn’t bad, but it’s not one of his better books either. It’s an easy book that still manages to grip you, and you can read it in a few hours on a flight. What more can we ask for?