What is Fool Me Once based on? Origins of the Netflix thriller

Let's delve into the story behind the series

Joanna Lumley and Michelle Keegan in Fool Me Once
(Image credit: Vishal Sharma/Netflix/Future)

What is Fool Me Once based on? We take a look at the origins of the Netflix thriller keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

Netflix viewers can't get enough of the streamer's latest thriller, Fool Me Once. Michelle Keegan portrays Maya Stern, a recently widowed mum trying to come to terms with the murder of her husband, Joe. Installing a nanny-cam to keep an eye on her daughter brings shocking revelations for Maya, when she sees Joe - apparently alive - in her house. 

Added to the mix are a secretive Detective Sergeant leading Joe's homicide investigation, and Maya's niece and nephew also trying to find the truth about their mother's murder. A thrilling hunt for the truth ensues resulting in shocking secrets being revealed, and lives changed forever. In the same way Netflix viewers were curious about the origins of Leave The World Behind and My Life with the Walter Boys, while others want to know what The End We Start From is based on, they're now asking what Fool Me Once is based on too - let's take a look.  

What is Fool Me Once based on?

Fool Me Once is based on the 2016 Harlan Coben novel of the same name. The series has been adapted for television by Brassic writer Danny Brocklehurst, and directed by BAFTA Award winner David Moore. 

Harlan Coben is a bestselling author known for incorporating multiple shocks and twists into his mystery novels and thrillers. His novels have been translated into 43 languages with over 80 million copies sold. The author has signed a multi-million-dollar contract with Netflix that will see 14 of his books developed into original series or films, with with his Myron Bolitar series also to be adapted later as part of an ongoing deal with the streamer. 

Speaking to the Guardian about the inspiration behind Fool Me Once, Coben recalled meeting the very first female combat helicopter pilot, who'd flown missions in the Middle East. This meeting formed the basis for special ops pilot, Maya. The author elaborated "At the same time, friends of mine were using spy cams to watch their nannies and kids, and so I combined the two."

With the compelling plot twists his novels are so well known for, Coben believes his formula makes for equally interesting television adaptations. He added "I think the same thing that makes you turn pages in a book makes you binge TV episodes. It’s sort of a new thing with streaming services, where you keep hitting that next button."

Coben concluded "When Fool Me Once [the novel] was released, I’d say: 'I hope you take it to bed at 11 o’clock at night and think I’m only going to read for 15 minutes, and the next thing you know, you’re turning pages at four in the morning and your eyes are blurry and all that.'"

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben £9.19 | Amazon

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben £9.19 | Amazon

Read the #1 bestselling novel that inspired a major Netflix series starring Michelle Keegan and Joanna Lumley.

Is Fool Me Once a sequel?

No, Fool Me Once isn't a sequel to any other Harlan Coben novels or adaptations, but a standalone series.

For this reason, it is also unlikely there will be a second season of the show, as the ending was wrapped up and there is no further source material to adapt. If Fool Me Once has inspired you to watch further Harlan Coben series, Netflix also has The Stranger, The Woods, The Innocent, Gone For Good, Stay Close, and Hold Tight in its catalogue. Over on Prime Video, you can also find Harlan Coben's Shelter - an eight-part series released in 2023.

Speaking to What To Watch about filming the series, Michelle Keegan said "I hope viewers enjoy all the twists and turns. Nothing is how it seems in this story. People will come to their own conclusions, but their conclusions will probably be wrong. That’s what I loved about the show and about the book.

I was always second guessing why Maya did that or what happened, and my guesses were always wrong. It was always something bigger and better than that. Never second guess anything. You are definitely going to be shocked!"

Michelle Keegan as Maya Stern and Richard Armitage as Joe Burkett in Fool Me Once.

(Image credit: Matt SquireNetflix)

Where is Fool Me Once based?

Fool Me Once is set in the fictional town of Winhurst in Manchester - the show was also filmed in the area. This is a change from the original novel, where events took place in New York.

Speaking to Radio Times about the change in location, Michelle Keegan said "The book’s set in New York, so it’s totally different now, because they’re in Manchester. It sort of grounded it for me."

Joanna Lumley added "I think it worked really well. It switched over very easily, without any sense that you’re losing too much. So the book had sort of been plasticined, morphed into a kind of British shape, and it worked really well."

If the home of Joanna Lumley's character, Judith Birkett, looks familiar, it's because the manor house had a previous major TV role as Tommy Shelby's house in Peaky Blinders.

Approximately 25 miles from Manchester, Arley Hall and Gardens is open to the public to visit. The gardens are open for most of the year, and the Hall itself open on specific days only.

Joanna Lumley in Fool Me Once

(Image credit: Netflix)

Fool Me Once: Reviews

Both the audience and critical reception to Fool Me Once, has been very mixed.

Ed Power from the Telegraph liked it, offering 4/5 stars. He said "A bonkers thriller you'll gobble down as guiltily as the leftover chocs. Succession it ain't, but Netflix's latest Harlan Coben twist-fest is the perfect accompaniment to sofa-based New Year torpor."

However, Nick Hilton from the Independent only offered 1/5, alongside a scathing review. In summing up, he said "It’s TV that has the capacity to shock you – not because the plot is shocking, but because you’re shocked it’s still on. Did the final episode autoplay? Ah well, it’s over now – unlike the Coben adaptations, which will keep on coming and coming."

One audience member on Rotten Tomatoes agreed, writing "Boring, oddly paced. Flat character played even more flatly by a flat actor. And even I, a person not particularly versed in militaria, noticed multiple really annoying errors in a story about an ex forces character. Do yourself a favour and Google spoilers instead of sitting through this tripe."

However, another clearly loved the show, enthusing "I binged watched it in a day, and it had me gripped from the start. Michelle Keegan is brilliant in this role . The suspense, the twists and turns. A gripping watch, I highly recommend it." 

For more TV show origins, we've also looked into what Prime Video's Foe is based on and the inspiration behind Netflix's  A Nearly Normal Family. Bringing steaminess and thrills galore, we also delved into the story behind Channel 4's The Couple Next Door.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.