A Book Spy Review: ‘Fool Me Once’ by Harlan Coben

Simply put, Harlan Coben’s new thriller is an absolute work of genius.

The story opens with a funeral. Joe Burkett, Maya’s husband, was murdered right in front of her. That memory, like so many other memories, haunts her nightly.

Returning home from the funeral a single parent, Maya stays strong for her two-year-old daughter. A friend of hers offers a gift out of concern, which Maya is at first reluctant to accept. The gift is a digital picture frame that doubles as a hidden nanny cam, a device parents sometimes set up in their homes so they can keep an eye on whoever is watching their children.

Harlen Coben Fool me onceThe Story

At first glance, this story seems simple enough – a wife is grieving the loss of her husband and struggling to keep it all together for her daughter. Okay, that’s fairly straightforward, right? Wrong. The plot takes a sudden turn, the first of many, compelling the reader to continue on without so much as slowing long enough to catch their breath.

A police detective still has some questions about the night of Joe’s death, which Maya does her best to answer. She soon starts to feel as though she’s now a suspect in the case, which the detective won’t deny. Considering her background, even Maya admitted that she’d too probably be suspicious of herself  if she were in the detective’s shoes.

The story progresses and the reader learns that Maya was a special-ops pilot. One of her closest friends, Shane, served beside her on the battlefield. The two are still close, watching each others backs and protecting one another in the real world.

Shane isn’t just worried about Maya because she’s a grieving widow, he’s also worried about her because she’s an ex-soldier with a severe case of PTSD. He knows that Maya is tortured by an operation the two were on together, which resulted in the death of innocent civilians. What he doesn’t know is that she still hears the screams of those people dying in her sleep.

Then comes the first twist…

It’s revealed that Joe isn’t the only loved one Maya has recently lost. Aside from watching her husband be gunned down and struggling with PTSD, Maya’s grieving the loss of Claire, her sister who was killed just four months before her husband’s murder.

Between trips to the police station and a soccer game to connect with Clair’s children, Maya’s niece and nephew, she notices a tail. The same car keeps following her – or is it just her imagination?

One morning, after putting off viewing  footage from the nanny cam long enough, Maya decides to see what her nanny and daughter do all day. Initially, things look fine. The nanny does everything by the book, never putting her daughter in harms way. She even drinks her coffee from a cup with a top on it, ensuring it could never spill on the child.

And then, she spots something crazy. Something impossible…

The footage, which was time stamped from the day prior, shows Joe sitting in the den playing with their daughter.

Another twist…

Maya can’t believe her eyes. No, Really, she’s not sure she can trust what she saw. Are her eyes playing a trick on her?

Confronting Isabella, the nanny, Maya demands to know what’s going on. But Isabella is confused, and claims to see nothing on the tape. No man, no Joe, nothing. What? Maya wonders if she’s just seeing things.

Could it be the PTSD playing games with her mind? Maybe, it’s possible, but no – that was Joe! Wasn’t it?

Another turn…

Maya, her head already spinning from the revelation that she may have seen her dead husband playing with their daughter, begins searching for answers. Meanwhile, the Burketts, who are a little strange and unusually close family, ask Maya to come over for the reading of Joe’s will.

Just before the reading the family lawyer announces there’s been a “paperwork snafu,” and that they will have to delay things a day or two to sort it all out. But when the nature of the”snafu” is revealed, it sparks a conspiracy theory – one that goes all the way back to Joe’s childhood.

Another twist…

Suddenly, unsure of who she can trust, Maya starts questioning everything. Is Joe alive? Did she really watch him die? She saw him get shot, but did she really see him die? Maybe. But, then again, maybe not.

Joe hired Isabella before he died because he trusted her family, but can Mia trust her? Can she really even trust Shane? What about her friend that gave her the nanny cam, can she be trusted? Did she know something strange was going on, and that’s why she bought the hidden camera for Maya?

And wait a second, if Maya has access to the nanny cam then who else can access it and look in on her life?

More twists, and more turns

All of that, everything I just wrote and more, all takes place within the first quarter of the story. It doesn’t slow down there, though, not one bit. Instead, Harlan Coben pushes the gas pedal all the way down to the floor – picking up the speed as the plot continues to twist and turn while moving at breakneck speeds.

If at any point you think you know how the story might end, forget about it. Anything you think you know, whatever you think might be going on, you’re not even close. I was sure I had it all figured it out, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For fun, I dare readers to buy this book and then sit down with a sheet of paper and a pen. Every fifty pages write down what you think is really going on. Try your hardest to figure it all out because I guarantee you won’t even come close.

If nothing else, you’ll have a good laugh reading your notes after you finish the book.

Why I loved it

I’ve never read a story like this before, and it was so incredibly fascinating that I read the entire book in one sitting. It took me just under six hours to finish, and by the time I was done I felt like I’d had a long cardio workout because my heart was beating so fast. To say this book will keep you on the edge of seat does’t do it justice!

Fool Me Once is the type of story that you don’t just get lost in, you find yourself entranced by it and hanging on the author’s every word. You’ll get all the same effects as a day spent at the amusement park riding roller coasters, but for a lot less money and without having to stand in line.

Why you should read it

Every year there is always that one book people talk about in the office or at social gatherings, this year it will be Harlan Coben’s. Fool Me Once is 2016’s Gone Girl or Girl on a Train – people will be talking about this book, especially it’s ending, for a very long time.

The real magic of Coben’s writing is that you will never see the ending coming… at which point you’ll look back on the story and realize it’s the only ending that ever made sense.

Like I said, Fool Me Once is an absolute work of genius.

Author: Harlan Coben

Pages: 400 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: March 22, 2016. Pre-order here!

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