The plots are essentially updated versions of 19th century novels about well-to-do women hiding scandalous pasts and mayors who once drunkenly gambled away their wife and kids. Everybody is connected to everybody else through a sticky web of past events. And once you’ve got the hang of the lurid tone, there’s a relaxing predictability about it all, not dissimilar to watching a cooking show. Here are the many characters, all measured out in neat little bowls, now tip them into the pot, stir, heat and voila! Simmering secret stew.
Some thrillers are content with just one big twist, delivered right at the end. Not the Harlan Coben genus. The sheer density of secrets per character results in an average of three to five twists per episode, including a cliff-hanger. Once things really get going, not ten minutes will go by without somebody shouting “You’re my dad!” or “I left you for dead!” Value for money.
The unexpectedly weird bits
It’s not all lacrosse team barbecues and corpses in the boot of company SUVs. Every so often in the translation between these novels’ US origins and the UK adaptation by Danny Brocklehurst and team, arrives a pleasingly bonkers element. The Stranger featured a beheaded alpaca named after a member of Take That, and Stay Close has a pair of weirdo villains named Ken and Barbie who feel as though they’ve drifted in from another show entirely. And speaking of surprises…
Unexpected comedy highlights
You may not expect to find actual Jennifer Saunders or actual Eddie Izzard among the casts of a UK TV crime thriller, but find them you will, and a delight they are too. Saunders plays cafe owner Heidi in The Stranger, and Izzard (whose drama back catalogue is pretty extensive by now) plays a high-functioning addict and pro-bono lawyer in Stay Close. Both are great, as tend to be the female police officers in these series. Siobhan Finneran, Amanda Abbington, Jo Joyner all play no-nonsense coppers that, dark secrets notwithstanding, you’d happily invite on a mates’ night out.
If anything will teach you that money and a massive house won’t buy you happiness, it’s a Harlan Coben thriller. That said, the massive houses in leafy expensive suburbs where women answer the door in luxe workout gear saying things like “Sorry for the outfit, I’m doing boxercise” are relaxing to look at in the extreme. See-through kettles, over-sized arty glass bowls, Italian marble kitchens and bi-fold doors leading onto sunny terraces… it’s like flicking through a copy of Homes & Gardens in the dentist’s waiting room: drama and pain are on their way, but first enjoy this tasteful patio set.
Answers are guaranteed
The three states of watching a Harlan Coben thriller are: confused, suspicious, or asleep. Viewers though, can rest assured that after devoting hours of baffled dozing suspicion to a series, there will be concrete answers. Tony-Soprano-in-the-diner ambiguity is not the game here. These thrillers are assiduous about providing an explanation for every little mystery, even if that does tend to turn the dialogue into a shopping list by the end.