What links: a drug dealer in Trainspotting, a wrestling referee in The World According to Garp, a disgruntled restaurant guest in The Night Manager, an Aunt who slaps Madeline Brewer’s face in The Handmaid’s Tale, and a police officer in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back?
Correct! They were all cameo appearances in films and TV shows made by the author of the original books (respectively: Irvine Welsh, John Irving, John le Carré, Margaret Atwood and Lee Child). While writers are as a rule happier out of the limelight thinking up their metaphors while hunched solo over a keyboard, every so often they straighten their spines to walk self-consciously through the back of shot in a movie based on one of their books. It’s fun for them. Gets them out of the house.
Best-selling thriller author Harlan Coben (the man behind the ever-growing Harlan Coben Screen Universe) is no different. Of the dozen TV series adapted from his twist-packed novels, he’s made cameos in at least six. These six, to be specific:
Fool Me Once (2024)
The newest addition to Netflix’s collection of Harlan Coben mystery thriller adaptations is the story of Maya, a former pilot in the British army who, one day, sees her dead husband pop up on her nanny cam. Is grief addling her mind, or is there a chance that Joe, the eldest son of a wealthy dynasty, isn’t really dead?
Maya’s investigations in episode two of eight lead her to an out-of-town video arcade, where this shadowy figure is seen tending bar:
It’s Coben, as confirmed by an endearingly self-deprecating Instagram post in which he jokingly describes himself as scene-stealing from series lead Michelle Keegan: “You can’t teach this kind of acting. You either have it or you don’t”.
Stay Close (2021)
Before Fool Me Once, Danny Brocklehurst and the team adapted Stay Close, the story of a well-to-do middle class wife and mother hiding a scandalous past that led to multiple unsolved disappearances and a very grisly discovery. It starred The Good Fight’s Cush Jumbo opposite one-man Harlan Coben rep theatre troupe Richard Armitage (he’s played different characters in each new Netflix series since The Stranger), James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish.
It didn’t star Harlan Coben in person, but look closely at the police evidence wall of missing persons and one Stephen Clarkson bears an uncanny resemblance to the author himself.
The Stranger (2020)
In The Stranger, a mysterious woman comes to town intent on revealing everybody’s hidden secrets – the cam girl, the pregnancy, the love child, the murderer, the affair… It stars Hannah John Kamen (Dutch in Killjoys) as the titular Stranger, alongside Happy Valley’s Siobhan Finneran, Timewasters’ Kadiff Kirwan and Zapped’s Paul Kaye as police officers, and of course – Richard Armitage as Adam Price, the man at the centre of it all.
And when Finneran’s detective needs some forensic computing done in episode two, who does she turn to but this capable-looking analyst?
Juste Un Regard/Just One Look (2017)
In this French adaptation of the 2004 novel Just One Look, happily married, mother-of-two forest ranger Eva (Virginie Ledoyen) finds her life turned upside down after she’s sent a mysterious photograph in the mail, showing her husband decades earlier. He denies that it’s him and then disappears one night while taking their kids out to a concert.
Some (frankly) ludicrous twists and very ill-advised de-ageing flashbacks follow, and towards the end, Harlan Coben pops up in one scene as a hospital doctor.
The Five (2016)
The first of the UK-set adaptations of Harlan Coben novels, The Five is the story of Mark, a lawyer whose little brother went missing decades earlier. When a match for his brother’s DNA appears to show up at a crime scene in the present day, Mark and his gang of friends from childhood investigate.
The Five is also a romance involving Mark (Tom Cullen) and Pru (Sarah Solemani), who come clean about their feelings for one another at a very fancy restaurant in episode nine. Who should be there to greet Mark on arrival, but a menu-bearing host with the familiar look of a certain author…
No Second Chance/Une Chance de Trop (2015)
This French-language adaptation tells the story of Alice Lambert, a medical doctor who suffers a traumatic attack in which her husband is killed and their infant daughter kidnapped. As Alice fights to find her child, she untangles a complex knot of… well, it’s a Harlan Coben thriller, you know the drill – there are secrets stuffed into every crevice and twist revelations up the wazoo.
There’s also perhaps Harlan Coben’s most extensive cameo in the role of (yes, his character has a name and a backstory in this one, and features even more in the original book) Abe Tansmore. It would be a spoiler to explain exactly who Abe is, but he and his wife Loraine (Dana Delany) are key to the story’s Paris-set denouement.
Ne Le Dis à Personne / Tell No-One (2006)
The French did it first. This Guillaume Canet-directed feature is the earliest Harlan Coben screen adaptation, and it’s a very solid thriller with a top cast including François Cluzet and Kristen Scott-Thomas. The story is a The Fugitive-like tale of a widower suspected of his wife’s murder and who goes on the run in an attempt to clear his name.
While on the run, Dr Beck is pursued by various shadowy types including a tall bald-headed man at a train station played by none other than… Harlan Coben (apologies for the low-quality screengrab).
And The Rest?
The above are far from the only Harlan Coben screen adaptations, there’s also 2018’s Safe, 2020’s Polish-language The Woods and its 2022 spin-off Hold Tight, 2021’s Disparu à Jamais/Gone for Good, and Spanish-language adaptation El Innocent/The Innocent, plus 2023’s Harlan Coben’s Shelter. Anybody spot a certain lofty chap in the background of those? Let us know.
Fool Me Once is available to stream now on Netflix.