The Stranger

4 out of 5

Created by: Harlan Coben

While subject to every single trope of the mystery mini-series – a core, springboard mystery that seems like it could’ve partially been dispelled by a few questions; lots of kneejerk, false-accusations; tons and tons of linked-by-a-thread subplots – Harlan Coben’s book-to-screen adapted The Stranger is a pretty damned great entry in the scene, maintaining a brisk pace throughout its 8 episodes by always keeping an eye on its prize – where is Adam Price’s (Richard Armitage) disappeared wife? – and not doubling down on any of the above tropes, which occur, are summarily dealt with, and then we’re on to the next one. Though there’s always the opportunity, as a viewer, to sit back and wonder why X didn’t just do Y and save themselves some trouble, by proceeding with this type of momentum and addressing each step of the mystery – it’s not just that we hurry by things and create plot holes, but rather work through them with contextual logic – the series maintains tight control on suspension of disbelief, and equally important to all of this, puts its actors (who are all universally well cast) in a position to actually act like humans. Yeah, wild stuff like a stranger (Hannah John-Kamen) showing up to town and sidling up to individuals to tell them some spurious fact about someone close to them – such as to Adam, telling him his wife faked a miscarriage from some years back – thus kicking off a bluster of events involving stolen money and prostitution websites and crooked cops and decapitated alpacas… well, this stuff surely doesn’t happen in the real world, as far as us sitting-at-home-and-streaming-Netflix folk usually see, but Stranger’s writers and directors bundle all of this up effectively, starting at disparate points familiar to the genre, and then providing links at a very satisfying pace. No answer – save the main one, regarding to where Corinne Price (Dervla Kirwan) has vanished, after Adam confronts her over the secret – is ever too far away, and while surely some of the above mentioned aspects are fantastic, the actors are always forefronted, the show never relying on spectacle; it’s a grabbing presentation, and easily bingeable as a result.

By story’s end, there are the usual dribs and drabs that fall by the wayside, but the central thread that has brought us through is very strong, and I didn’t feel the usual letdown that such mini-series often prompt once the Whys and Hows are revealed; normally, we get to a conclusion, and what happens afterward is just padding to get to the credits. Here, the actors – Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, playing the DS assigned to the case – have managed to imbue their roles with such depth that we actually care to see how they’re affected in the aftermath.

Writer Harlan Coben’s works are entertaining in themselves, and have made for several fun adaptations. The Stranger is a peak version of the adapted form, though, massaging all of the usual mystery ins-and-outs into an addictive, and rather expertly paced 8-part series.