Saturday, March 12, 2016

Book Reviews: The Stranger

The Stranger
by Harlan Coben
I have an older relative who apparently considers it his sacred duty to share unflattering details about even older kin, most of whom are no longer around to contradict, challenge or clarify his statements. He claims that the younger generation needs to know certain things. Well maybe we do and maybe we don't. My view is that if I didn't ask there's a good chance I didn't want to know.  And even if I did want to know, the semi-public nature of Facebook makes it a poor arena for learning that Great-Grand Uncle Mendacious Mike did this or that wrong or stole this or yada yada yada. Of course when your older relatives have departed this plane of existence, learning some unpleasant facts of their lives may not matter much when all is said and done. Bottom line is most of them did the best that they could do with the limited resources they had. So I can view their alleged foibles or misdeeds with equanimity. 

Those things don't really impact me for the most part (I mean besides learning that second cousin Pookie Mac stole your Grandfather's fledgling business back in 1959 and that's why that branch of the family never shows up at family reunions). But what if instead of having an older relative trolling you on Facebook about people who are usually long gone, you were minding your own business when out of the blue a stranger walked up to you and told you something ugly, shocking and true about someone close to you who is still living? Let's say you discovered something very nasty about your husband, wife, father, brother, mother, sister, son or daughter. What would you do with that information? Would you try to live just as before and pretend that nothing had changed? Or would doubt and suspicion inevitably worm their way into your soul, harming the relationship with your loved one or making you boil over with anxiety and anger?  

Or maybe you'd see this as justification to do something illicit. There are some things that your loved one might be doing in secret that are really none of your business. But there are other activities which may have great impact on you. Could you forgive any transgression by a loved one? Coben's thriller The Stranger introduces the reader to a New Jersey yuppie lawyer Adam Price. Adam appears to have the world on a string, at least by the standards of the upper middle-class semi-rich circles he inhabits.

Adam has a good job, plenty of money and a house in the suburbs where nothing bad like break-ins, robberies, sexual assaults or murders ever happens.  He has two sons with his attractive intelligent wife Corrine. Adam has what he thinks of as a good relationship with Corrine, a high school teacher. Like any other couple they've had their ups and downs but they've worked through them. They are very much still physically and emotionally drawn to each other. Adam would lay his life on the line for Corrine, not that he thinks such a sacrifice would ever be required in their neck of the woods. So you can imagine Adam's shock, when at his son's lacrosse game a stranger who knows his name and some other things he shouldn't know, tells Adam that Corrine faked her recent pregnancy which ended in a miscarriage. 

The stranger gives Adam the name of the company Corrine used to accomplish this. The stranger suggests that Adam double check to ensure that his sons are really his. After all, you can't be too sure can you? After some denial and anger Adam checks the couple's bank and credit card statements. He does some more research. He discovers that yes Corrine really did pay for what appears to be a faked pregnancy. When Adam confronts Corrine with this information she doesn't deny it but says that Adam lacks context. Corinne says she needs a few days before she can talk to Adam. But Corrine disappears before their planned confessional dinner meeting. 

All Adam gets from Corrine is a text message telling him she needs some more time apart. Well Adam can't abide by that for long as obviously his sons know something is up between Mom and Dad. He simultaneously tries to find his wife while also using all of his connections, legal and otherwise, to learn the identity of the man who told him Corrine's secrets. What's the stranger's motivation? How did he know? Is Adam bringing unwelcome attention to himself?

This is a fast moving well paced thriller that might make you a bit paranoid about how much information about you is publicly available. You also may wonder how well you know the people in your circle of trust. This book also works as a mystery. Some important clues are hidden in plain sight from the first chapter while others are cleverly disguised and slowly teased throughout the story. I recognized the author's name so I may have read some of his work before. This is the first book of his that I remember reading. Everyone has secrets. The reader will enjoy figuring out who's lying, who's misdirecting and who is mixing lies and truth together. Once you start this book I think you will want to keep reading it. There are a lot of twists and fakeouts. It's a good entertaining book. Keep this in mind for the next time you have to wait at a hospital or auto dealership or anywhere else where you have to hurry up and wait.
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