In the interests of doing other things with my free time, this review will be written in approximately thirty minutes. Timer starts…now!
Netflix’s latest collaboration with Harlan Coben is just as thrilling as viewers have come to expect
Starring Cush Jumbo, James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage, Eddie Izzard, Jo Joyner, Youssef Kerkour, Sarah Parish, Daniel Francis, Andi Osho, Bethany Antonia, Rachel Andrews, Poppy Gilbert, Hyoie O’Grady, and Ross Boatman
After previous Harlan Coben collaborations Safe and The Stranger, viewers will be able to detect some commonality with this adaptation of Coben’s 2012 novel, released on New Year’s Eve 2021. There’s an inciting incident, a vast array of characters, a shady, secretive past and, of course THE TWIST. That’s not to say that Stay Close is not engaging or gripping, however. After all, there’s a reason why these elements have become hallmarks of Coben’s thriller fiction: they work, however much they are easy to deride.
Megan Pierce (Cush Jumbo) is the chosen character for the shady backstory here. On the outside, she appears a doting housewife to three children, Kayleigh (Bethany Antonia), Laura (Tallulah Byrne) and Jordan (Dylan Francis) while preparing to get married to soulmate Dave (Daniel Francis). This veneer of perfection, however, merely betrays the darkness buried beneath it.
Michael Broome (James Nesbitt) is the detective, tormented by his greatest failure: the disappearance of Stewart Green, a member of the local community, seventeen years before. When Carlton Flynn goes missing in the same area that Green did, on the anniversary of his disappearance, no less, Broome becomes convinced of a connection between the two crimes.
Megan soon finds her own past knocking on her door, in the form of a letter addressed to “Cassie”, leading her back towards her old friend Lorraine (Sarah Parish), who warns her that Stewart has returned. Megan, however, is less than convinced, claiming with unnerving certainty that he is dead. Before leaving, Lorraine reminds Megan of her old flame, who gifted her a plastic engagement ring but whom she fled with no explanation.
This man is Ray (Richard Armitage), a down-on-his-luck photographer, whose recent work is the last documented footage of Carlton Flynn stumbling around the forests. Mugged for his camera, it is clear that somebody doesn’t want this knowledge discovered though, fortunately for modern technology, Ray had already uploaded the pictures to the cloud. As an additional twist to add to the pile, Megan’s daughter Kayleigh has Carlton’s distinctive necklace…
From here, Coben (along with writing team Danny Brocklehurst, Mick Ford, Charlotte Coben and Victoria Asare-Archer) weaves a dense tale in which nothing is inconsequential. Each instalment leaves audiences with the perfect incentive to immediately rocket onto the next, creating a wonderfully digestible, thrilling narrative.
Despite the oft-used, clichéd tropes on offer, including seemingly perfect housewife with sordid past, brooding, no-nonsense detective, rebellious daughter, sinister police department mole and psychopathic assassin duo, Stay Close uses these characters well, where they feel a little more fleshed out than their narrative function. Not every character’s motivations neatly match up to each other, and it makes for a compelling watch as they selectively impact or withhold information at any given moment.
This is doubtless, in part, to the sheer amount of on-screen talent on offer. With veteran actors such as James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage, Jo Joyner and Sarah Parish, the performances are well rounded and engaging, allowing the writing, rather than characters’ sneaky facial expressions mid hug (cue Eastenders theme) to increase the tension and sew the seeds of doubt within the audience’s minds. Cush Jumbo, while perhaps less of a household name as the others, is a commanding presence throughout and Poppy Gilbert, who plays Barbie, one half of the assassin duo, is deliciously watchable.
The intrigue comes, as Coben’s work tends to, in watching the different threads of the narrative coalesce together into a cohesive whole. For all intents and purposes, there are three main parts to the narrative: Megan, desperately concealing her past life and trying to rid herself of Stewart Green; Broome, dogmatically searching out answers in a mystery that spans more than a decade; and Ray, whose mugging adds further layers to Broome’s mystery, and his shared past with Megan serves to complicate her perfect life.
Throughout, the writers find a good balance of introducing new elements and withholding information, such that viewers’ interest is piqued but they do not feel completely lost or confused. It is a tricky combination to get right, but the pacing of new revelations proves near-perfect, though audiences might not get every single answer they are hoping for. Having said that, it relies drastically less upon convenient contrivances than either Safe, nor The Stranger did.
Incredibly watchable and almost addictive, Stay Close is a roller coaster of revelations from start to finish. With only seven shows commissioned for Netflix out of the agreed 14, there is still plenty of Coben left to enjoy before his five-year deal comes to a close next year.
Stay Close is streaming now on Netflix.