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THE STRANGER by Harlan Coben: Book Review

Harlan Coben has done it again, writing a mystery that will grab you from the first line and not let you go.  “The stranger didn’t shatter Adam’s world all at once”–how’s that for an attention grabber?

Adam Price is a successful lawyer in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, a place where, to quote Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”  Adam is having a drink with friends when a stranger comes up to him and says, “You don’t have to stay with her,” and with those seven words Adam’s life as he has known it comes to an end.

The stranger tells Adam that his wife, the mother of his two sons, faked a pregnant test two years ago.  When Adam protests, the man tells him to check his Visa bill; there he’ll find the “fake a pregnancy” website that Corinne used.  Corinne is away for the day at a teachers’ conference so, after fighting the urge, Adam goes online to check out the stranger’s information.  And, sure enough, he finds the proof that his wife created a fictitious pregnancy and then “had a miscarriage.”  But why would she do that?

Heidi Dann is getting into her car after a luncheon with friends when she hears a whisper in her ear, another life-changing message to an unsuspecting person.  There’s a website called,” she’s told.  

Dan Molino is at his son’s football game when the stranger says, “You know, don’t you?”  And all the stranger wants is ten thousand dollars not to make public the contents of the manila envelope he hands Dan.

These three strands are all important to this novel, but most of the emphasis is on Adam and what follows the stranger’s whispered remarks to him.  Adam is trying to hold his family together as best he can, but the ties are weakening.  How could anyone could have discovered her deception?  Why won’t Corinne explain the reason she did what she did?  

Harlan Coben is an absolute master of suspense.  The people in his novels are your neighbors, your friends, even you yourself, caught in a maelstrom of terror.  One day you are going about your business, with your life continuing as usual, and the next day everything is turned upside-down.   And whatever steps you take seem useless.

Harlan Coben is the winner of mystery’s trifecta–the Edgar, the Shamus, and the Anthony awards–for his novels, which have sold over sixty million copies.  Let me predict that The Stranger will add many more to that total.

You can read more about Harlan Coben at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.



DON’T LOOK FOR ME by Loren D. Estleman: Book Review

Alec Wynn is a very wealthy man with a very big problem. His young wife is missing, leaving behind only a note saying “Don’t look for me. C.” Alec knows there have been problems in their marriage–the difference in their ages, her infidelities–but he doesn’t understand why she left and doesn’t want to be found. So he hires private investigator Amos Walker to find the missing Cecelia in Don’t Look For Me.

Alec tells Amos that Cecelia was a serial adulterer, the last affair being with an employee of Alec’s, Lloyd Debner. “I fired him , naturally. ….gave him excellent references,” says Alec. So Amos’ first visit is to Lloyd, who reluctantly admits that Cecelia broke off their relationship because she told him he couldn’t satisfy her sexually.

His next visit is to Cecelia’s best friend, Patti Lochner. According to Alec, “If anyone was born to cause trouble in a happy marriage, her name is Patti Lochner.” After hearing only negative comments about Cecelia’s marriage and affairs from Patti, Amos asks her why she dislikes Cecelia so much. Surprised at Amos’ question, she responds, “Cecelia? She’s my best friend.” With friends like this….

The search continues, with stops at a natural health foods/vitamin store that might be a front for something more dangerous, a studio shooting pornographic videos with Cecilia’s former maid as a performer, and a gambling casino where Amos can talk things over with his friend Barry Stackpole. Cecelia was into some dangerous stuff, or at least sniffing around the edges of some of it, but Amos isn’t really getting anywhere. And then Cecelia calls him.

This is, I believe, the twenty-third novel that features Amos Walker, Detroit’s best-known private eye. Amos hasn’t lost a bit of his quick wit, although that doesn’t go over so well with his present client. When asked how big his agency is, Amos responds, “About six-one and one-eighty….I lied about my weight.” Alec’s response–“The humor I can take or let alone.” But the snarky remarks and quick comebacks are part of the Walker persona. He’s been in the business long enough not to be cowed by his clients, no matter how wealthy or powerful they are. After all, they came to him, didn’t they?

Don’t Look For Me brings back two men who form the basis of Amos’ “family.” One is John Alderdyce, now an inspector with the Detroit Police Department, a big bear of a man with a sense of fashion. The other is Barry Stackpole, an investigative journalist wounded a few books back by the Mob, who now has a bad leg and a steel plate in his head. John and Barry might not always agree with Amos or with what he’s doing, but they always have his back.

Loren D. Estleman recently received the Eye, the lifetime achievement award given by the Private Eye Writers of America. That should come as no surprise, as Amos Walker is surely one of the best known and best loved private eyes in America.

You can read more about Loren D. Estleman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site.



FROM DOON WITH DEATH by Ruth Rendell: Book Review

In 1964, Ruth Rendell’s first mystery, From Doon With Death, was published. The jacket’s blurb states that the publisher, “in keeping with its policy of attracting and encouraging the most promising new authors,” takes great pleasure in publishing this novel.  Did they truly ever suspect that the young Ms. Rendell would be the acclaimed author of more than fifty novels, nearly two dozen of which feature, as does her first, Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford?

I read From Doon with Death more than thirty years ago, but it’s always remained in my memory as an outstanding piece of legerdemain.  Although an internet piece on Ms. Rendell states that she broke from the mold of the British Golden Age mystery writers (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers), I think that From Doon with Death is very much like Ms. Christie’s novels in its ability to fool the reader with red herrings.

The novel opens when Ronald Parsons, a neighbor of Detective Inspector Mike Burden, calls Burden to tell him that his wife Margaret is missing. She’s a woman of regular habits, her immediate family is deceased, she has made no friends since their move to Kingsmarkham six months earlier, but she’s not home when Ronald returns from work.  No clothes are missing from the meager assortment in her closet, nor is her luggage missing.

Burden tells Parsons not to worry, that she’s simply out somewhere and that she’s bound to return home shortly.  But she hasn’t returned by the next morning.  And a day later her body is found in a nearby forest.

Her life seems innocuous enough, except that when Wexford and Burden return to Parsons’ home for another search of the premises they find in the attic several volumes inscribed to Mina with much love from Doon.  Ronald Parsons says he never called his wife by that name nor heard anyone else call her that.  So were the books actually inscribed to Margaret Parsons, or did she acquire them from someone else?

As the investigation proceeds, the police discover that Margaret had lived in Kingsmarkham when she was a teenage girl in school. Her husband doesn’t see that as having any relevance to the murder, but Wexford wonders if someone or something from her past has caught up with her, perhaps the mysterious Doon.  Wexford finds a teacher and several of Mrs. Parsons’ classmates still in town, but no one seems to be able to shed light on why anyone would have killed her.  Her only relative, a cousin who moved to America following World War II, may have the answer, but the police are having trouble locating her.

The end of the novel came as a complete surprise to me on my first reading.  From Doon with Death shows the brilliance of Ruth Rendell, even in her first novel.

You can read more about Ruth Rendell at