Friday, April 1, 2016


Characters in a Harlen Coben novel should never ever use any kind of photographic equipment. Nothing good ever comes of it. From mysterious pictures stuck inside a photo pickup order to the ghostly images on a digital picture frame/nanny cam in this year's Fool Me Once, the message is clear: photography kills.

Or at the very least messes up your life even more, which is the last thing that Maya Stern Burkett needs right now. Disgraced and discharged from the Army after a tragic incident in combat, grieving the loss of her sister, she's now facing life without her husband -- killed in a Central Park mugging that she barely escaped. When a friend brings her a hidden nanny cam disguised as a digital picture frame, she sets it up to watch as her nanny Isabella plays with her two-year-old daughter Lilly -- who is later joined by Maya's murdered husband Joe, seeming very much un-murdered. Worried that any revelation of this might cause people already worried about her post-war stress to think she's completely flipped, Maya starts to look into the matter herself. She finds that there are even more things that are not what they seemed than she could have ever imagined, and that the mysteries go back decades.

Fool Me Once is easily among Coben's least substantial work. He's made a theme of visiting strange trauma and tragedy on placid suburbia, with the only difference here being that Maya carries a goodly amount of her own trauma into the situation herself before things start to fall apart. The only thing not telegraphed in the book is the final "twist" of the ending, and it's a lot more neck-snapping corkscrew crash than it is twist.

The author is reportedly at work on another book featuring Myron Bolitar, his sports-agent crime-stopper mainstay character; perhaps a return to a familiar set of characters will offer more evidence of creativity and effort than we find in Fool Me Once. If not, then it may be time to invoke the second half of that old saying and cease letting Coben fool us at all.
Mike Erikson seems like an ordinary, well-liked high school English teacher. But he has a secret. He never forgets. Anything. And he has a friend who works in government who's dealing with a group of scientists that seem to have created a method of instant teleportation, called the "Albuquerque Door" after Bugs Bunny's old directional mistake.

But the scientists are being closed-mouthed about their discovery, as well as dragging their feet on expanding their tests. Mike's friend wants to know why, so he convinces his friend with the flawless memory to hire on and investigate the project and see if everything is as above-board as the team claims it to be. In 2015's The Fold, he learns that very little about the Albuquerque Door is as it seems, and the project team may be hiding not secrets, but ignorance about what they're doing. Their ignorance could have serious consequences for themselves, Mike, national defense and the entire world with everyone in it.

Previously best-known as the author of the "Ex-" series, a group of not particularly distinguished novels in the less-than-inventive genre of zombie apocalypti, Clines has a good storytelling ear and an excellent handle on giving his characters a wry, smartass tone. These scientists are funny and offer him a chance to poke a little fun at some science-fiction standbys. He helps make the science of the door sound plausible and also offers a good image to describe how Mike's memory works. Although some of his action scenes are a little chaotic, the features of the narrative that surround them make that plausible.

The Fold starts limping when Clines veers into some Lovecraft pastiche and wrangles his finale to tie it in with an earlier novel, 14. It didn't need to chase those rabbits in order to be fun, and would almost certainly be stronger without them.

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