Even if you’re not an avid reader, you will probably have encountered thriller writer Harlan Coben’s work.
Jumping seamlessly from more than 30 bestselling novels to a string of top-notch dramas, Coben is the mastermind behind recent Netflix series The Stranger and Safe.
Coben, 58 – a genial, witty character – transfers his sharp humour into some of the characters in his page-turners, including feisty lawyer Hester Crimstein, who brings comic relief to many of his books, including the latest, The Boy From The Woods.
But he never writes his novels with TV adaptations in mind.
“That’s the kiss of death,” he says. “A book should be a book and a TV series should be a TV series.
“When you mix the two up and you think you have to be slavishly devoted to a text, those are usually the worst adaptations.”
Jumping from the world of print to TV, screenwriting and producing came at the right time, says Coben, who lives in New Jersey, where he was born.
“Books will always be my true love, but I really enjoy the TV stuff. If you have a book and it’s a success, it’s like you’re a golfer or tennis player who’s won a big tournament. You celebrate on your own. As I get older, it’s been more fun being part of a team.”
The Boy From The Woods, his 32nd novel, centres on Wilde, a decorated former soldier who, as a boy, was found living alone in remote woodland in New Jersey, not knowing how he’d got there or where he’d come from.
Now in his 30s, Wilde prefers to live outdoors alone, but is close to Crimstein, who is still grieving over the death of her son, who was Wilde’s friend.
When a child goes missing, the pair join forces to find her.
Coben got the idea while hiking through woodland near his home when he spotted a child, aged about six or seven.
“All my books start with a ‘What if?’ What if this kid had come out of the woods and had no idea how he got there, and he never knew who his parents were? Now skip ahead 30 years and we still don’t know any of that. Then another kid goes missing.”
Will Wilde and Crimstein ever appear on the screen?
“I have a five-year deal with Netflix – they’ve optioned l all of my standalones, including the ones I write now. The Boy From The Woods is with Netflix but we haven’t started discussing it.”
Coben is a sociable guy, so working with a TV team was an attractive prospect but he’s not away on location as much as you might think, because technology allows him to work from home.
But he admits he’s easily bored. His four children, aged 18-25, have flown the nest.
“We are empty-nesters,” he says. “It’s a big adjustment. It feels weird. Two of them are nearby in New York and I try to do fun things when they want to see me.
“But I don’t handle it well. I miss them.”
His wife, Anne Armstrong-Coben, is a paediatrician and dean of admissions for Columbia University’s Medical School. They’ve been married for more than 30 years.
“I found somebody really great and just hung on for dear life,” Coben says wryly. “She’s usually my first reader. She’s my softest critic, which is why she’s my first reader.”
Does it become more difficult to think of new storylines?
“I’ve always felt I’ll never have another good idea and I’ll have to get a real job,” Coben admits. “But the fear does fuel me.”
Harlan Coben, The Boy From The Woods, Century, £20
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