Fool me Once – Harlan Coben

This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House, India in exchange of a fair review

Reading this novel has left me utterly bewildered. How is it that I have never before read any books by Harlan Coben? It seems like an unforgivable oversight. On the other hand, I now have an entire new collection to go through without having to wait for a year before the author finishes a new novel.

In case that opening paragraph did not make it clear, I hereby state that I loved this book. Oh, it has its flaws, but it managed to do something that hasn’t happened in my reading history for quite some time – it surprised me. When one reads so much crime fiction, very few things can happen that you haven’t anticipated or read in some other permutation and combination somewhere else. You will begin to expect a certain kind of novel to move in a certain way and more likely than not you will be correct.  And so, being caught off-guard by an author feels absolutely fantastic.

The book opens with the funeral of Joe Burkett attended by his near and dear ones, including his widow Maya and two year old daughter Lily. Maya is ex-army and has her whole squad standing behind her as support. She is trying to figure out a way to get on with her life and look after her daughter, when one day something terrifying jolts her equilibrium. On the nanny cam she installed after being hounded into it by her friend Eileen, she spots her dead husband playing with her daughter. How is it possible when she saw him getting killed in front of her eyes? Did he somehow fake his own death? Joe’s family is stinking rich and it may have been possible to buy a lot of things with that money, but what would be the need for such an elaborate cover-up?

As Maya struggles to unravel the mystery of the man on the nanny cam, she is hampered by the disbelief of colleagues and friends alike, as her sighting and questions about Joe are dismissed as the ramblings of a grief-stricken woman. After all, just a few months before Joe’s murder, she had to go through another life-altering tragedy when she lost her much-loved sister to a home invasion. Since then, she has been trying to keep an eye out for her niece and nephew as well, as their father seems to be engulfed in an alcohol-induced fugue most of the time. It seems entirely plausible that Maya has lost her hold on reality and is maybe looking for something that is no longer there.

The writing is fast paced and the story keeps unravelling at breakneck speed. Maya’s character is wonderfully complex and interesting. At some point the author wants the reader also to begin questioning Maya’s sanity, but that should never be in doubt from the character sketch he has penned down from the beginning of the book. The military background plays a major role in shaping her decisions and her character in the book. Maybe that was also one reason I loved the book so much – a soldier can hardly ever do much wrong in my opinion.

The writing style is a tad bit simplistic, but the plot is strong enough to cover these minor irritants. I am now going to  try and lay my hands on the other books by this author and hope he manages to surprise me at least a few more times.

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