In 2006, Harlan Coben’s 2001 mystery novel Tell No One was adapted into a movie by French filmmaker Guillaume Canet. It won four awards at the Césars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, and was one of the highest-grossing movies of the year in France. Tell No One was a critical and commercial hit around the world as well, but it was a major turning point for Coben’s work in Europe, where he’s now a name brand. Coben’s novels remain bestsellers in the United States, but all of his TV and movie work thus far has originated in Europe.
Three recent TV miniseries based on Coben’s work, two from the U.K. and one from France, have now been imported back into the U.S. thanks to Netflix, which last year also signed Coben to a multiyear deal that specified the development of projects in multiple languages. That’s largely thanks to the success of 2018’s Safe, an eight-episode British-French coproduction branded as a Netflix original outside of France.
Safe features Dexter star Michael C. Hall putting on a sometimes shaky British accent as Tom Delaney, a doctor living in a gated community outside of London, the kind of place where nothing bad is supposed to happen, but something always does.
When Tom’s teenage daughter Jenny (Amy James-Kelly) goes missing, his quest to get her back expands to encompass a murder mystery, a blackmail plot and many, many long-buried secrets, all contained within the community’s walls. Coben created Safe directly for TV, with British TV veteran Danny Brocklehurst as head writer.
That same arrangement was in place for the 10-episode 2016 series The Five, broadcast on Sky in the U.K. and available elsewhere on Netflix. For both series, Coben gets a possessory credit above the title in the opening credits, and the storytelling style follows the structure of a Coben novel.
No Second Chance, a French series based on a Coben novel, is full of twists and turns and sudden betrayals.
In The Five, the lives of four childhood friends are upended when one friend’s brother, presumed dead since age 5, seems to return 20 years later, leaving traces of his DNA at a murder scene. As in Safe, efforts to uncover the truth end up burgeoning into other investigations, including two crimes that could serve as central storylines for any number of crime procedurals. But Coben’s work is always character-focused, and the complicated relationships among the neighbors in Safe and the friends in The Five are just as important as finding out whodunit.
That’s also true for No Second Chance, the 2015 French series based on Coben’s 2003 novel. It’s one of two Coben-based French series from the same producers (the other, Just One Look, isn’t yet available in the U.S.), and it’s billed in the opening titles as “Une Série de Harlan Coben,” a testament to his name recognition in France (he even has an extended cameo).
Like Safe, Chance focuses on a doctor whose child has gone missing. Here, that’s Alice Lambert (Alexandra Lamy), who is left for dead before her husband is murdered and her baby daughter kidnapped. At six episodes, Chance is more focused than Coben’s British series, with fewer subplots and detours. (It also benefits from a truly detestable villain.) It’s still full of twists and turns and sudden betrayals, and all of Coben’s series have enough red herrings to open a fish market.
These series are highly bingeable, which makes them perfect for Netflix, even if the supposed cliffhangers are often resolved innocuously early in the next episode. Coben taps into primal emotions—parents who want to protect their children, cops who want to clear those pesky open cases. Murder mysteries, it turns out, constitute a universal language.
Stills courtesy of Netflix.