Forgive me for throwing out this hackneyed phrase — but Fool Me Once is a world-class thriller. I mean, seriously; just when you think Harlan Coben has reached his apex, when you’re thinking there’s no way he can beat what’s come before, he produces his best, most compulsive novel yet. Shudder in fear, fellow thriller writers; Coben has set the bar stratospherically high this year.
As always, Coben’s latest is peopled with believable characters thrust into seismic situations. Fool Me Once stars Maya Burkett, a former special ops pilot, home from the war, and suffering from PTSD following a decision she made in combat. This is a woman who has been through much in recent years; the death of her sister, and more recently, the murder of her husband, Joe. Despite that – her festering demons – Maya is determined to stay strong for her young daughter. So when she glimpses her dead husband on a nanny-cam just two weeks after his death, the familial normalcy she is striving for threatens to completely unravel. Maya finds herself digging deep into the past, uncovering the shocking truth about her husband and the kind of man he really was — and the kind of woman she is.
Coben’s mastery has always been the blindside; the plot-twist readers never see coming. I consider myself a ‘veteran’ thriller reader (see this patch I sewed onto my jacket?) and particularly gifted at predicting these dramatic zigzags (I am waiting for Professor X to sign me up to the X-Men, because I consider this my mutant power). But the grand finale here shocked me; it rocked me to my very core. I turned the final pages with my mouth agape, disbelieving, but believing at the same time. Because this is a twist that doesn’t feel contrived; it makes sense. It’s like an awakening; the journey up until now takes on a completely new meaning. If my reading stack wasn’t already threatening to topple and crush me in my sleep (why couldn’t my mutant power be invincibility?!) I’d re-read Fool Me Once with this new mindset.
Sure, it’s a little humourless at times — occasionally I’d find myself missing the Myron Bolitar’s one-liners (although a recent Tweet suggests we’ll be reunited with that old favourite soon) and the zinging dialogue of some of Coben’s wittier protagonists — and the novel takes slightly longer than usual to kick into high gear; but the build-up is worth it for that gut-punch of an ending. With Fool Me Once, Harlan Coben has once again proved to be the consummate master of the modern day thriller. I know better than to assume he won’t one-up himself next year.