Fool Me Once’s Best Character Is Barely In the Harlan Coben Book

TV

Warning: contains finale spoilers for Netflix’s Fool Me Once

In the 25-years-later epilogue of Netflix thriller Fool Me Once, police detective Sami Kierce brings flowers to a new mother in hospital. She’s Lily, the grown-up daughter of Captain Maya Stern, and has just given birth to her first child – a baby girl she names Maya in memory of her dead mother. Kierce was the officer who investigated the murder of Lily’s father Joe, and his and Maya’s lives became entwined in the days leading up to her death all those years ago.

In the TV show, it feels natural (or, as natural as anything that happens in the ludicrously heightened world of a Harlan Coben thriller) for Sami, played by Adeel Akhtar, to be at the hospital. His history with Maya and how they worked together to bring down the Burkett family make it realistic for him to have stuck around in Lily’s life. If, however, his book character counterpart Det. Roger Kierce had shown up in the novel’s final flashfoward scene? Lily might have been forgiven for calling security.

Det. Kierce is a very slight character in the 2016 novel who only appears in a handful of scenes in which he questions Maya about the night of her husband’s murder. Other than that, we don’t find out anything much about him or his home life. In the book, Coben describes Roger Kierce (named for a fan who donated to a charity in exchange for getting a cameo in the book) as a stocky, short, hirsute NYPD cop with “something of a caveman thing going on”, but that’s it. Kierce is suspected at one point of taking bribes from the powerful Burkett family, and interrogates Maya on a couple of occasions, but then is seen no more.

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In the TV version of Fool Me Once adapted by Danny Brocklehurst, Kierce is a totally new man. He’s a recovering alcoholic with a traumatic backstory involving the murder of his ex-fiancé, as well as an undiagnosed and life-threatening medical condition, an impending wedding, a baby on the way, and a younger colleague named Marty. He also has his own mysteries, not least what’s wrong with him and what’s the true identity of the woman with whom he converses throughout the series.

On multiple occasions in the show, we see Kierce confiding in a woman who’s presumed to be Kierce’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. It turns out however, that she’s really a hallucination of his dead fiancé Nicole (played by Jade Anouka), and a side effect of the dodgy medication he’s been taking – medication that’s been causing his serious illness and which the Burkett family’s pharmaceutical firm fraudulently had approved for market despite its dangerous side effects.

In the series finale, Kierce works together with Maya Stern to unveil the Burkett family’s illegal activity, and to expose her ex-husband Joe Burkett as a multiple murderer. They enact a plan to live-stream the Burketts confessing to the lot, and Maya engineers her own murder on the same broadcast. With a common enemy, the former antagonists team up and succeed in taking the baddies down.

All of that though, is just plot – something Harlan Coben books and TV shows always have in excess. What makes Sami Kierce far and away the strongest character in Fool Me Once is Adeel Akhtar’s performance. Whatever he’s asked to sell, the Sherwood and Utopia actor does it with conviction, humour and humanity. Sami’s health struggle, alcoholism storyline and the guilt he carries over Nicole’s death could all have been ticked off like so many boxes on a ‘TV cop’ checklist, but Akhtar breathes life into them all and steals the whole show out from the rest of the cast. Yes, it was crucial to expand the Kierce character for the TV series, but it was even more important to cast him as well as they did.

Other changes from the book to the TV series involved cutting a plot point in which Maya is kidnapped and fights her way free from a gang of masked men hired by Joe Burkett’s brother Neil, and – perhaps because the UK producers’ previous Coben adaptation Stay Close revolved around a strip club so they didn’t want to repeat themselves – swapping the “Leather and Lace Gentlemen’s Club” where whistleblower Corey hides out in the novel for a retro video arcade featuring a familiar-looking barman…

Fool Me Once is available to stream now on Netflix.

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