David Baldacci. The Innocent. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.
Baldacci has had great success with thrillers revolving around spies, special agents, and secret assassins. This latest is no exception. It reminds me that I must get to his The Camel Club series, inexplicably missing among the careless sticky memos littering my daytimer. The Innocent features a hero reminiscent of Lee Child's Jack Reacher and because I haven't read all of Baldacci's novels, Will Robie is perhaps the characteristic norm. The addition of a credibly bright kid who is neither cloying nor annoying is a bonus.
Assassination is the major theme here, leading the reader into an intricate plot, challenging in all senses. Washington DC and environs are the main setting (where else to place potentially world-shaking catalysts?) with a few whiffs of overseas action. Trust or betrayals in the military, the secret service, or the FBI unfold as we wonder how the two main trails will resolve. Good to see that Robie is not a completely conditioned automaton as his training would suggest. Baldacci has allowed him glimpses of living a different life. Apart from my suspicions of his dubious interim boss, it all hangs together very well; highly recommended.
Explaining an explosion to a fellow escapee:
"You wouldn't need a lot of juice to blow up a bus. It could have been concealed on him. Some C-4 or Semtex and the full tank of gas will take care of the rest. Some explosive vapor in the tank plus a steady supply of fuel for the fire. And it could have been set off remotely. In fact, is that's what happened, a remote had to be used, since the guy was tied up. About half the suicide bombers in the Middle East never pull the trigger themselves. They're just sent out with the bombs and their handlers detonate from a safe distance away." (83)
On a red herring:
"Robie was about to explain the tattoo. But Julie broke the silence first.In a quavering voice she said, 'It's a Spartan warrior in a hoplite battle stance.'He looked at her in amazement. 'How'd you know that?''Because my dad had a tattoo exactly like it.'" (251)
John Grisham. The Confession. New York: Dell Mass Market Edition, 2011.
Grisham makes for better movies than books. In my humble opinion. He usually has great stories but is what I call a pedestrian writer. His ill-disguised social justice agendas often irk me with polemic insertions that interrupt the narrative. Having said that, I'm glad I persevered through 500+ pages for a vivid account of a death penalty conviction and all its ramifications. So vivid, and so thoroughly presented, it's hard to believe this is fiction. Of course the legal and technical research is factually right up to date.
An innocent man railroaded onto death row in Texas---ripped from the headlines, yep---has last-minute chances for a reprieve. Grisham explores not only the repercussions on the imprisoned man's family, but also those of his alleged victim. AND he introduces the guilty party for a continuous power play of suspense. The characters (a wide cast) are well-drawn even if the didactics are a bit overdone. Altogether a very sober and worthwhile look at yet another legislative issue Grisham challenges. Well done!
Grisham gets passionate about the convicted man's lawyer (and this is just where the story begins):
"He had waged war as he had never done before. He had fought like a madman at the ridiculous trial in which Donté was convicted of the murder. He had abused the appellate courts during his appeals. He had danced around ethics and skirted the law. He had written grating articles declaring his client's innocence. He had paid experts to concoct novel theories that no one bought. He had pestered the governor to the point that his calls were no longer returned, not even by lowly staffers. He had lobbied politicians, innocence groups, religious groups, bar associations, civil-rights advocates, death-penalty abolitionists, anybody and everybody who might possibly be able to do something to save his client. Yet the clock had not stopped. It was still ticking, louder and louder.
"In the process, [he] had spent all his money, burned every bridge, alienated almost every friend, and driven himself to the point of exhaustion and instability. He had blown the trumpet for so long that no one heard it anymore. To most observers, he was just another loudmouthed lawyer screaming about his innocent client, not exactly an unusual sight." (25-26)