Harlan Coben: ‘I’ve always wanted to make something in India’ 


After seven successful shows with Netflix, Harlan Coben has signed a fresh deal with the streamer. “We are making the eighth, Fool Me Once, in Manchester with the same team that made The Stranger, Safe, Stay Closeand The Five,” says Coben over a video call from New York City. The show stars Michelle Keegan, Joanna Lumley, Richard Armitage (for the third time) and Adeel Akhtar. “It has been a great relationship with Netflix, and we agreed to keep going.”

The new deal with Netflix includes the Myron Bolitar series, a series of crime thrillers about a former basketball star and celebrity sports representative. This has created an interesting business conundrum for the Mickey Bolitar series, Shelter, presently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Mickey is Myron’s nephew and features in Coben’s Young Adult novel series.

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“Mickey Bolitar rights are controlled by Amazon Prime Video while Myron Bolitar rights are controlled by Netflix and so, can’t be in Shelter.” The problem was solved with the introduction of Myron’s sister, Shira, who is mentioned in one of the books. “Shira, played by Constance Zimmer, is going to be the Myron character in the series and it worked well. The dynamic of Mickey living with an aunt, rather than uncle actually makes the show better.”

Something new

The 61-year-old writer has no problem with adaptations straying from the book in terms of character or location. “The worst adaptations are those that stay slavishly devoted to the text.” A book is a book, and a series is a series, says Coben. “They’re not the same and shouldn’t be.” Insisting he likes adaptations that reflect the difference between the interiority of a novel and visual storytelling, Coben says, “Taking my stories that normally take place, right where I am, New York, and New Jersey, and setting them in another location will hopefully produce something more interesting.”

The adaptations, Coben says, also offers a chance to update the books. “Some of these books are old. I wrote The Innocent in 2004, The Stranger is over a dozen years old.”

Interesting dynamic

The author

The author
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Special Arrangement

Transplanting Coben’s very definitely American books to different countries creates an interesting dynamic and one wonders if there will be a Harlan Coben novel set in India. “It’s one of the things that we’re working on and is a priority for me, I’ve always wanted to make something in India and I’ve been close a few times and then for whatever reason it doesn’t work out. India is a big word, with different languages and cultures. Americans may think of you as one India, but I don’t.”

For the television adaptation of The Innocent, which was set in Spain, Coben met the director and writer, Oriol Paulo. “He discussed how he wanted to do it, opening each episode with a different character, presenting their part of the story. I thought they were interesting ideas though I didn’t like his ending, which we changed. It would be a similar process if I’m lucky enough to do a show in India.”

Not every book would translate into going overseas, Coben says. “The Myron Bolitar series has to be American. Being a series (There are 11 Myron Bolitar novels) it was a little different.” Coben says people like the adaptations for different reasons. “Some people like the Polish or the Spanish or the British shows, most people like them all, because they’re different. The British ones usually have humor where we do a little wink and a nod. We had the crazy Ken and Barbie serial killers in Stay Close that some people loved and others hated.”

Adrian Greensmith, Jaden Michael and Abby Corrigan in Harlan Coben’s Shelter

Adrian Greensmith, Jaden Michael and Abby Corrigan in Harlan Coben’s Shelter
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Special Arrangement

The Innocent was gritty while the Polish shows (The Woods, Hold Tight), Coben says had gravitas. “The Polish have certain way of doing things and I’m always pushing them to be a little faster paced.”

Summer daze

In The Woods novel, the summer of love is referenced, which was changed to the Nazis in the show, and was a clever way of rooting the show in Poland. “That was not my idea,” Coben hastens to say. “Summer camps in America are different from those in Poland, where teenagers hang out. The summer camp I described in the book is more like the one that I actually worked in as a counselor. The makers said, ‘we don’t have those kinds of camps in Poland,’ and I was like, ‘okay, that’s what we have to reflect.”

The idea for The Woods, incidentally came to Coben from his camp counselor days. “I was a terrible counsellor. I was 17 years old, they shouldn’t be hiring me to watch kids!”

Part of the deal

As executive producer on every show, Coben says he has a hands-on approach.  “That’s part of the deal with Netflix. It’s not that they just have the rights to my books, but they have the rights to me. On all the shows that we’ve made, I’ve been involved in casting, writing, producing, directing… I usually go on set. For The Innocent I did go over to Barcelona for part of filming and then I had to leave because of COVID-19.  A lot of times the actors want to talk to me as well. I’ve been very lucky that I’m able to choose a lot of times who my collaborators are.”

Despite the shows being set in different countries in various languages including Polish, Spanish and French, Coben says he is terrible with foreign languages. “I have no natural ear for foreign languages. Behind me you can see a poster of the French adaptation of Tell No One, Ne le dis à Personne. The first time director Guillaume Canet showed me the movie I asked, ‘will there be subtitles?’ He said, ‘Subtitles? But you wrote it’. I said, ‘I don’t speak any French!’”

Missi Pyle and Constance Zimmer in a still from Harlan Coben’s Shelter

Missi Pyle and Constance Zimmer in a still from Harlan Coben’s Shelter
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Describing the shows as his children, Coben says, “They all drive me crazy (laughs). I love them for different reasons. I love the nuttiness of the British shows, the gravitas of the Polish shows, the pace and the seriousness of the Spanish shows. Each show has its own strengths, I usually like the newest show.”

On the book front, Coben released his 36th thriller, I Will Find You (Penguin Random House) earlier this year. “The first sentence, ‘I’m serving the fifth year of a life sentence for murdering my own child.’, popped into my head,” says Coben. “Sometimes that happens. It happened with No Second Chance (2003) and I thought ‘Wow, what a cool place to start a story’. This man is so down, so low… Can I write a novel about redemption and even joy and excitement starting from that spot?”

Kiss of death

Given the successful adaptations of his novels, Coben does not feel any pressure of writing for screen. “The worst thing you can do is to write a novel thinking this is going to be a great movie or series. It’s the kiss of death for a novel. The caveat in my case is I don’t care if I change things. I’m not precious about the fidelity of sticking with the novels. It doesn’t matter if this becomes a movie or not. I have to just make it the absolute best book and when it comes to a series based on the book, I want it to be the best series we can make — best book, best series, forget everything else.”



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