Book Summary and Analysis |

Fiction | Mystery and Crime

Summary and Critique of

Harlan Coben’s

The Stranger

by J.B. Feliciton

Copyright©2016 J.B. Feliciton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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Plot Summary and Analysis

At their sons’ lacrosse all-star team draft, Tripp Evans says to Adam Price: “We’re living the dream.” Indeed, Adam Price seem to live the American dream. He is married to a beautiful woman; he and his wife have good jobs and two wonderful sons. Adam is a public defender. Corinne teaches at a school. They live in a big house in a community where social standing is very important and where people are willing to go very far in order to maintain the appearance of their status.

The dream life begins slipping away, when a stranger approaches Adam and tells him that his wife keeps a secret from him. Adam learns from the stranger that his wife Corinne had faked her first pregnancy and a miscarriage. The stranger further provides Adam with more details on how his wife falsified a pregnancy and miscarriage. When Adam asks the man to identify himself, the man calls himself ‘the stranger.’

After their conversation, Adam sees that the Stranger gets into a car driven by a woman. Adam researches the charges that Corinne made on their card a couple of years earlier. He finds that their credit card was charged by a company linked to the Fake-A-Pregnancy website. He also discovers that Corinne purchased a fake pregnancy test, sonogram, and silicone belly. He begins to doubt everything about his life with his wife, and thinks about purchasing a paternity test.

Although Adam feels reluctant to jeopardize his seemingly happy life, he is unable to forget about his wife’s secret. Adam asks Corinne if she faked her pregnancy and tells her that he may want DNA proof to verify that he is the biological father of Thomas and Ryan. Corinne confesses that she faked pregnancy, because she learned about all the positive attention that another woman, Suzanne, received when she faked her pregnancy.

Adam tells Corinne that he found out about her fake pregnancy from the stranger. Corinne does not deny the story of her fake pregnancy. She asks for more time and promises to talk about it over dinner the following day. However, on the following day, Corinne goes missing. Adam receives from her only one message that asks him to take care of kids and avoid contacting her. She does not answer Adam’s text messages, and search shows that her cellphone is located somewhere near Pittsburgh. While Adam tries to find Corinne, as well as the Stranger, he faces a dark conspiracy that puts his life in danger.

The Stranger’s identity is unknown and his motives remain secret. Adam is not the only person approached by the Stranger. The Stranger approaches different people and tells them information that shatters their lives. Heidi Dann, a middle-aged woman with a family who lives in Beachwood, Ohio, and Michaela Siegel, who lives in New York City, are some of the people targeted by the Stranger. The Stranger’s revelations destroy reputations, and some people end up murdered.
Adam sends a few text messages to Corinne’s phone, but she does not reply. He then visits the high school where Corinne works and finds out that a substitute covers her class and that Corinne has not been at school in two days. Adam searches online, looking for any information about Suzanne Hope. He hopes to find information that would answer his questions about Corinne and her fake pregnancy.

When Adam finds Suzanne, she confirms Corinne’s story about Suzanne’s fake pregnancy. Suzanne also tells Adam that a stranger asked her to pay him 5,000 dollars in order to keep silent about her secret. When she did not give him the money, the stranger told her husband about her fake pregnancy and her husband divorced her after that. Adam wonders if he and Corinne had been victims of blackmail just like Suzanne had.

When Adam returns home, he finds Tripp, Cal, and Bob waiting for him and Len, the local police chief, pulls up in front of his house. Tripp implies that there are some discrepancies within the lacrosse financials administered by Corinne. Later, Adam learns that Corinne received a phone call from Tripp’s phone number earlier. When Adam confronts Tripp about the phone call, Tripp says that Corinne begged him for more time to prove her innocence with regards to the finances she oversaw. Adam also finds out that Corinne called Sally Perryman during her fake pregnancy. Sally explains that Corinne called her to find out what Adam was doing in Sally’s house.

Johanna Griffin, a police investigator, informs Adam that Corinne’s car has been found. She explains to Adam she has been taken off the case, but will continue the investigation on her own in order to find out why her friend was killed. Adam decides to tell Johanna about everything that has happened since the stranger approached him.

The parking attendant from the American Legion Hall gives Adam the license plate number of the stranger’s car. Adam finds the name of the person who rented the car and checks the person’s Facebook page. He also finds a photo of the stranger and another woman, whom Adam does not know, in one of the profiles of the person’s friends. Adam finds the name and address of that woman. He visits her and shows her a picture of the stranger. She refuses to tell Adam anything about the Stranger, and later contacts the Stranger.

Adams drives to her house again and sees that she is putting suitcases into her car, getting ready to take off. Adam follows her car, informing Johanna know about that. When the woman arrives in a remote area just outside of Manhattan, she turns down on a private driveway. When Adam tries to walk after her, someone hits him in the head with a baseball bat. When Adam regains consciousness, he sees the Stranger. Adam is interrogated at gunpoint.

Meanwhile, Adam’s son Thomas uses the phone tracking app on his cell phone to help Johanna track Adam’s last location before his phone was turned off. Johanna calls the local authorities and asks them to look for Adam’s car. As the events develop very rapidly, people who interrogated Adam are shot and the Stranger disappears. Later, Adam drives to the local church where he confronts Corinne’s murderer. The murderer shows Adam where he buried Corinne’s body. Adam loses control over himself and fires a gun.


Analysis of Leading Characters

Coben shifts the story-telling in his novel among a few characters, including Adam, the Stranger, a retired police officer, the police chief, and the mother of a teenage prostitute. The characters are realistically drawn. They start off with ordinary normal lives, until the Stranger throws them out of their comfort zone and makes them face problems that cannot be easily solved. Throughout his novel, Coben keeps the reader guessing about the motives of many characters.

Adam Price

Adam understands that his marriage of twenty years has had its ups and downs. Yet, he feels satisfied with his blissfully married life in suburbia. His loves his wife Corinne and his two sons, Thomas and Ryan.  When the stranger tells Adam that his wife faked her pregnancy, Adam tries to justify her actions by the fact that he was working too much. He also thinks that Corinne felt insecure because he spent too much time with his colleague Sally Perryman. After Adam confronts Corinne about her fake pregnancy, she disappears, leaving him and their two sons.

Adam wants to convince himself that she needs time to accept the fact that he has found out about her biggest secret. Adam keeps searching for Corinne, who goes missing, while his thoughts about her role in her disappearance keep changing. He considers different scenarios: Did she abandon her family? Is she a thief? Is she a murderer? Is she a victim?

The Stranger

The title character, the Stranger breaks the spotless façade of Adam’s family by making Adam learn about his wife’s secret. Adam seems to have it all—a happy marriage, two healthy sons, the career of an attorney, and a big house in a nice neighborhood. But the Stranger forces Adam to deal with the ugly side of his life. That is what The Stranger does for a living.

The Stranger’s name is Chris Taylor. His organization specializes in blackmailing. Equipped with the online tools of the internet-age, Chris and his organization use internet resources to discover other people’s secrets and wrongdoings. When they have discovered a person’s secret, Chris gives that person the option to pay money in order to keep the secret hidden. If the payment is refused, Chris contacts the victim’s loved ones and exposes his/her deception. In some cases, someone else pays Chris to reveal the victim’s secret right away without resorting to blackmailing. Corinne’s is one such case.

When Chris and Adam meet again after Corinne’s disappearance, Chris tells Adam that he believes he did Adam a favor by revealing Corinne’s secret about her fake pregnancy. Adam tries to explain to Chris that by revealing other people’s secrets, he creates problems for everyone involved. However, Chris believes that the mission of his organization is a commendable one.

Chris intrudes in many people’s lives, threatening to expose secrets and making a profit in the process. His discovers people’s misdeeds, such as fake pregnancies, prostitution and steroid use by athletes using computer hacking techniques. Then, he takes an “informational” bomb and drops it on those people who stand to be hurt most as a result of the exposure. He does not stay around in order to see the destruction that his actions cause.

After two people are murdered, it becomes easy for the reader to decide whether the Stranger’s actions are right or wrong.

Go to Part II A Critical Analysis

Go Back to Introduction and Overview

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