Mysteries: Coben’s ‘The Stranger’ is spellbinding from first sentence

The Stranger, by Harlan Coben. Dutton, 400 pages.

Harlan Coben is a master of “the hook,” the art of grabbing you on the first page. In this case he manages it in the first sentence: “The stranger didn’t shatter Adam’s world all at once.”

See? How can you not read on? Impossible.

The stranger rocks Adam Price’s world with the staggering news that his wife faked a pregnancy and miscarriage. Adam’s wife then goes missing, and when he tries to find the bearer of bad tidings, he discovers a pattern of startling disclosures – all connected somehow with unsavory websites – and a related pattern of deaths.

Coben is a great storyteller who never disappoints.

Where They Found Her, by Kimberly McCreight. HarperCollins, 336 pages.

A small-town reporter struggles to keep her objectivity when covering her first big news story, about the discovery of the body of an infant girl in woods near a university campus. Because Molly Sanderson is just climbing out of a depression caused by a miscarriage, her husband and others keep urging her to hand the story off to another reporter, but she feels driven to prove she can handle it.

This is one seriously twisted college town. McCreight runs through a whole range of dysfunctional families and sexual predators, but manages to keep us guessing right to the end about exactly which of them took their dysfunction over the edge into murder.

The Bone Tree, by Greg Iles. William Morrow, 816 pages.

The Bone Tree picks up the action where Greg Iles’ “Natchez Burning” left off, with Natchez Mayor Penn Cage chasing conspiracies across the Deep South with his newspaper-publisher girlfriend and an FBI agent.

There’s a prologue to catch you up on the plot, and then we are in the midst again as remnants of the deadly Double Eagle group try to finish off Cage and the others before they can deliver evidence of involvement in pretty much every assassination of any magnitude in the past century.

Meanwhile, Penn’s elderly father is on the run from law enforcement officials who are in the pockets of the conspirators. It’s 816 pages of blood, pain, pursuit and narrow escapes against a backdrop of Mississippi and Louisiana scenery.

House of Echoes, by Brendan Duffy. Ballantine, 400 pages.

Who can resist a “family moves to a spooky house in the woods” opening?

This spooky house in upstate New York has 65 decaying rooms and a basement full of rotting debris. The family is also a little shaky and escaping the New York City rat race to renovate an old manse into an inn may not have been the best way to deal with their issues.

Dad Ben has roots in the small village nearby, and in flashback diary entries we learn why his ancestors are among what’s called the Winter Families. He also is interested in the statistically suspicious incidence of fires around the old estate, including a fatal fire in the 1980s that was deliberately set.