The Stranger review – was she ever even pregnant?!

The Stranger review – was she ever even pregnant?!. Everyone harbours a secret that could ruin them, don’t they? They certainly do in this addictive Netflix thriller based on the Harlan Coben page-turner. Don’t make any evening plans

Imagine the horror: you are busy getting on with your safe, middle-class existence, singing aloud to Springsteen with your kids while driving through suburban streets on your way to the dads v lads football match (actually it already sounds like a nightmare), when suddenly a stranger turns up, tells you a terrible secret then disappears, leaving you with nothing but all the information necessary to blow up your entire life.

That is the premise of The Stranger, an eight-part Netflix thriller predicated on the notion that everybody harbours at least one secret with destructive potential. Adam Price (Richard Armitage) is a lawyer with two kids, a vivacious wife called Corinne (Dervla Kirwan) and not much to concern him beyond his woeful goalkeeping. Then, after the match, a total stranger – a young woman in a baseball cap (Hannah John-Kamen), with a manner both flirtatious and menacing – drops into the seat beside him and tells him that Corinne’s pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage from two years before had been entirely faked.

The stranger has no obvious motive for the reveal, and does not stick around to elaborate. But, with his wife away, Adam follows up on the accusation and discovers some corroborating evidence: a credit card payment to a website where the equipment needed to fake a pregnancy – false positive test kits, counterfeit ultrasound photos, Latex bellies – is sold. It all looks preposterous, but still – it’s there. When he confronts Corinne, she doesn’t deny it. Nor does she explain. “This isn’t what you think,” she says. “There’s more to this.”

A fug of the supernatural hangs over the opening minutes of The Stranger: a bonfire in the woods; a naked man running away from someone or something in the dark; a decapitated alpaca in the town square. Thankfully, this soon dissipates into something more procedural, otherwise the viewer might never get a handle on what is happening.

DS Johanna Griffin (Siobhan Finneran) and her parter Wes (Kadiff Kirwan) are investigating the dead alpaca, the naked boy found barely alive in the woods, and the connection between them – if any. Corinne’s secret looks as though it might take a back seat, at least temporarily. As she said, there’s more to this. The secrets soon begin to pile up. The Stranger has her work cut out.

Harlan Coben’s book, on which the series is based, is set in and across the United States. Here, the action has been shifted to a tight-knit community in the north of England (it is filmed in and around Stockport, but the fact that we are in Greater Manchester is never referred to). The result is an extreme claustrophobia: I wouldn’t want to contradict the notion that evil can lurk in the most anodyne of settings, but it is hard to credit that so much of it could be packed into so small an area. If you had never managed to accidentally murder a pair of backpackers over a long weekend, you wouldn’t amount to much in this town.

Also, everybody knows everybody; none of the characters ever need to be introduced. For a community so shot through with dark undercurrents, they all talk a lot. And they are nosy. In the circumstances, the idea that anyone managed to keep a secret from anyone else begins to seem improbable, if not impossible.

A strong and sprawling cast (Stephen Rea is also in it, as is Jennifer Saunders) work hard to keep all the balls in the air, and you will feel a strong urge to watch the second episode immediately, if only to clear up a few things. Without wishing to spoil anything, I can tell you that the second episode only muddies the waters further, and the third episode further still. More characters turn up, with even more secrets. It is addictive, if not entirely satisfying – like chocolate in Dry January.

As Adam, Armitage provides the closest thing we get to a still centre in the shifting plot. His quest for the truth is the only narrative thread, you feel, that couldn’t be turned on its head at any moment. One of the main ideas at play here is that there are secrets that are better off staying buried, but in your own personal quest for The Stranger to make any sort of sense, you will be propelled at speed through the entire thing. My advice is: don’t make any evening plans.