Wednesday June 27

Meat, Potatoes, and The Innocent: On the Appeal of David Baldacci

Choosing which mystery writer to read these days is a bit like choosing a dining experience. In addition to the myriad of cultural offerings, we may choose a sit-down, takeout, standing casual, or bite on the fly. Reading a Stieg Larsson novel, for instance, is a seven-course meal, requiring some time and patience, yet resulting in a deeply rich and satisfying experience. James Patterson is a lot like fast food, tasty but quickly and easily devoured. And then there’s David Baldacci, who always delivers a full, hot plate. His latest, The Innocent, is steak, rare, with potatoes and gravy, all-American, all-heart.

Will Robie is a political assassin. Hired by the U.S. government, he is ordered to kill individuals who conspire against the United States. Robie is tough, savvy, and courageous. He takes enormous risks and no prisoners, pursuing these most heinous villains. Meticulous planning and precise executions have granted him a perfect record. Now, with his long, violent career beginning to catch up with him, Will struggles to hold on to that small, buried, diminishing piece of himself that reassures him that he is, in fact, still human.

But when elements of his latest assignment go suddenly and tragically awry, the hunter becomes the hunted and circumstances soon spiral south. With federal bureaucracies of little help, Robie teams with the unlikeliest of partners, deepening the mystery and creating more problems than solutions.  The result is classic Baldacci: a maze of bread-crumb clues keeping you riveted to the page as each precious minute ticks toward its deadly ultimatum.

Many authors of this genre tend to write with a speed-driven narrative, and often fall prey to arrested character development. Baldacci strikes a better balance between speed of story and intricacy of character, his Camel Club series serving as a prime example. And where devices such as red herrings (misleading clues) are employed by many mystery writers, Baldacci relies more on shrewd plots and hairpin turns to keep you guessing, while tottering on the edge of your seat. Overall, it is the deeper intelligence of his writing that keeps me coming back for more. His talent for weaving so many disparate and delicate strands into a perilous web of deception is masterful, resulting in a remarkable, intellectually satiating experience. In doing so, I am left most impressed with the genius of his thinking, plotting and craft. A Magnolia cupcake on the fly? Baldacci is more like a favorite restaurant you return to time and again. Bon appetit!

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