“Death follows you, Maya.”
When crafting clever plots, Harlan Coben manages to stay current and touch upon some of the fears we all have about technology and the potential harm that can be inflicted by the Internet. If some of the characters in his new mystery, Fool Me Once, seem to be pulled from the headlines, that helps to make the story more immediate and meaningful.
Maya Stern Burkett is a former special-ops helicopter pilot who was forced to leave the military after an operation she was leading in Al Qa’im, not far from the Syrian-Iraqi border, ended in the deaths of innocent civilians. Maya, an expert shooter whether with a gun or a missile, took out a black SUV that was moving in to kill two U.S. soldiers who had survived an ambush that took the lives of four others. After a video of the explosion made its way onto the WikiLeaks-like website, CoreyTheWhistle, Maya had no choice but to resign.
Although she encountered death in the military, Maya also suffered losses at home. Her sister, Claire, died after being shot, her killer never found. And when the book opens, Maya is attending the funeral of her husband, Joe, shot and killed while he and Maya were walking in the park. Maya married Joe after a whirlwind courtship and never really fit into the wealthy Burkett family led by matriarch, Judith. “There was nothing you could have done,” Judith tells Maya at the cemetery while they watch Joe’s coffin being lowered into the earth. Yet Maya picks up the undertone: Maya had saved so many in the past. Why not her own husband?
Maya’s support system is thin. Claire’s husband, Eddie has been drinking heavily since his wife’s death and resents Maya’s attempts to help her niece and nephew. “Death follows you, Maya,” he tells her, warning her to stay away.
Shane served in the military with Maya and was in the helicopter with her on that fateful night. He believes that she’s suffering from PTSD and needs help. Shane also worries that the other shoe will drop when CoreyTheWhistle releases the audio of the attack creating more bad publicity for Maya.
The Burketts have been paying for Isabella to take care of Maya’s daughter, Lily. Maya, however, doesn’t trust Isabella, convinced she’s spying for Judith. So when Maya’s friend, Eileen, gives her a nanny-cam hidden in a picture frame, Maya sets it up in her home. Checking the camera one evening, Maya is shocked to see Joe with Lily on his lap. Is her husband still alive? And, if so, where is he? When Maya confronts Isabella with the video, the nanny reacts angrily and sprays Maya with pepper spray. When Maya recovers, she finds the sim card is missing from the picture frame. Without any evidence, Maya can’t prove what she saw. Did she really see Joe or is Shane right? Is she losing her mind? Maya has no choice but to investigate, but what she turns up many Burkett family secrets that place her life in danger.
Once again, Coben keeps the plot spinning to keep the pages turning. And the ending, while perfectly plausible, comes as a shock. The only quibble concerns the character of Maya. Cohen has created a strong, determined woman, yet she’s, at times, totally unlikeable. Her soft moments are revealed when she’s with Lily, yet her take no prisoners attitude to avenge the deaths she’s faced means she often hurts those who are mere pawns and not worthy of the punishment she doles out.
Ok, one more quibble. Fans of the Myron Bollitar series will miss the snappy dialogue and humor that makes those books so enjoyable to read. Fool Me Once is a grimmer tale and while it may not go down as Coben’s best is still not to be missed.
Author photo Claudio Marinesco
Fool Me Once