In the literary world, Harlan Coben’s novels are the equivalent of a summer popcorn thriller — fun in the moment but not necessarily having much replay value or holding up well to much (if any) deep scrutiny.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that mind you. There’s always room for that fun, don’t think too much about it, bubble-gum for the mind type of novel that serves as an escape for a few pages.
Veteran special-ops pilot Maya Stern suffers from PTSD from her time in combat. She’s also haunted by a decision that she made during that time that went viral thanks to the power of social media. She returns home to try and begin a normal life with her husband, but that plan hits a few stumbling blocks when her husband is killed in an apparent mugging attempt.
But in the midst of Maya’s grief, her new nanny-cam makes a shocking discovery — her husband comes home to visit their toddler and is caught on tape. Could he still be alive and why would he fake his own death? Answers aren’t easy to come by from his rich, insular family nor will they come easily from the people in Maya’s life she”s come to rely on and trust.
The set-up Fool Me Once is a solid one even if the pay-off isn’t necessarily the best. The more Maya digs into the conspiracy (and starts to appear crazier to her friends and family), the more Coben asks the reader to take a huge leap of faith in suspending our disbelief. By the end of the novel, the leaps become so eye-rolling that the novel loses any crediblity or momentum it had in the early goings. It’s the type of story that the more you just turn off your brain and go with it, the more fun you’re likely to have.
It’s a good escapist thrill ride, but not necessarily anything more.