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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Fool Me Once”

Liven up the doldrums of winter with a thrilling mystery that even Sherlock Holmes would have trouble unraveling. ìFool Me Once,î by Harlan Coben, will have you doing mental gymnastics as you navigate through the twists and turns in this plot. True sleuths will enjoy the challenge. But beware; as you line up the clues and prepare to stick the landing, this ìOlympic Champion of Deceptionî will knock you off your feet.Observe how Coben gets a vice grip on his audience with his cunning opening sentence: ìThey buried Joe three days after his murder.î That simplistic statement triggers an onslaught of questions. We get the easy answers in the first chapter, as the author introduces us to the cast of characters. But the important ìwho and why?î is an elusive beast, hiding just outside our reach until the bitter end.Maya Stern Burkett looks over the landscape as the preacherís words drag on. Sheís struck by the juxtaposition between the cemetery and the elementary school across the street. ìDeath is so close, always, a breath away,î she thinks. Maya, a former Army captain, became all too familiar with death during her tour in Iraq. But it appears to have followed her back home, always lingering nearby, like a shadow waiting to envelop her. The shock of her sister Claireís death four months ago left Maya feeling numb. And now Joe, her husband, was being lowered into the ground after being gunned down in Central Park right before her eyes.Lily, Mayaís 2-year-old daughter, begins to get antsy. ìNot much longer,î Maya whispers. Thatís when Eileen Finn, an old college friend, steps forward and offers to take Lily to the playground across the street until the service is over. Joeís family stands stoically nearby; this is the second son Judith Burkett has lost. Andrew drowned years ago, while still in his teens. Neil and Caroline, Joeís remaining siblings, look bewildered. Why did two ìstreet punks,î apprehended shortly after the shooting, target their brother? As the owners of Burkett Enterprises, a pharmaceutical company, the family has all the trappings of wealth. Sadly, prosperity could not shield them from these tragic events.As Maya looks at the throngs of mourners, she notices six former platoon mates stationed at different points throughout the crowd with Shane, now head of the local military police, standing closest to her. They are ready to intervene should anyone threaten her in any manner. These are the only people she truly trusts ñ- the ones whom she is certain ìhave her back.î Just a short distance away, almost melting into the background, she also sees NYPD homicide detective Roger Kierce.After the funeral, Eileen gives Maya a digital picture frame, with a nanny cam discreetly hidden inside. Since Maya will be returning to her job as a flight instructor, Eileen believes the camera can act as a second pair of eyes to ensure Lily is receiving the proper care. Two weeks later, Maya reviews the footage, expecting to see nothing more than Lily and Isabella, the nanny, playing. Instead, she is shocked to discover Isabella, Lily and someone who looks unmistakably like Joe sitting together on the couch.Then, a man whose actions compromised Mayaís military career turns up. Corey Rudzinski likes to think of himself as the next Julian Assange. His ìCoreyTheWhistleî website encourages people to post confidential material, with little concern for whom the information may harm. Both Maya and Shane wonder what Rudzinski could possibly be after now.Now Coben amps up the confusion with a good dose of scandals. Just when you think you have it figured out ñ- think again. The author has more than 70 million books in print. His mystery thrillers have become so popular that his last 10 novels didnít have to work their way up on the ìNew York Timesî bestsellersí list. Each and every one earned the No. 1 spot within days of publication.What I loved about this book was Cobenís ability to portray a female protagonist in a realistic manner. Maya is no ìnervous Nellie,î shaking with fear, or dependent on a male to protect herself and her daughter, nor is she a superhero. Her actions are very much what you would expect from a battlefield veteran.Is Joe really alive? ìDoubtful,î Maya surmises. So why was this footage made? Isabellaís family has always worked for the Burketts. Is the family attempting to drive Maya insane in order to gain custody of Lily? Youíll run into many blind alleys as you try to discover whodunit. But itís all those back flips that make ìFool Me Onceî such a compelling read.Read it yourself and see. Hereís hoping you can ìstick the landing.î

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