David Baldacci

"The Whole Truth"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky APR 27, 2008)

"Creel had grown weary of watching the weak and savage dictate to the strong and civilized.  That madness had ruled for long enough.  He was about to set things right"

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci

Dick Pender, a former employee in the White House press office, is an expert in perception management.  His motto is: "Why waste time trying to discover the truth, when you can so easily create it?"  In David Baldacci's The Whole Truth, some very influential people pay Pender big bucks to bury inconvenient secrets and manipulate public opinion, using cleverly crafted lies packaged for maximum media impact.   Pender's most important client is Machiavellian billionaire Nicholas Creel, the head of the world's largest defense conglomerate, Ares Corporation.  Although Creel has had a series of trophy wives and owns a four-hundred foot yacht, he is less interested in acquiring more wealth than he is in pitting the great superpowers against one another.  This would generate a huge arms race and, theoretically, create a stand-off that would prevent any one superpower from subjugating the others. For Creel, "a peace based on lurking terror was the best kind of all."

Baldacci's hero is Shaw, a globe-trotting troubleshooter for a shadowy international law-enforcement organization, "sort of like Interpol on steroids."  He is a strong and physically imposing man whose knowledge of surveillance, hand-to-hand combat, and weaponry makes him an extremely valuable asset.  His acting ability, uncanny intuition, courage, and coolness under pressure have helped him prevail in a number of dangerous situations.  On any given day, Shaw's quarry might include ruthless drug dealers, bloodthirsty terrorists, or vicious neo-Nazis, none of whom would be pleased to discover that he has deceived them.  Although Shaw dreams of retiring and living a sedate life with his beautiful and brilliant girlfriend, German-born Anna Fischer, his boss has him in a stranglehold from which he cannot easily break free.

The female heroine is award-winning investigative reporter Katie James.  As a result of a traumatic experience in Afghanistan, she became an alcoholic who has been relegated to writing obits, the graveyard of journalism.  Through happenstance, Katie meets Shaw, and both narrowly escape with their lives during a run-in with some murderous thugs in Scotland.  When an unexpected tragedy sends an enraged Shaw on a mission of revenge, Katie decides to risk her life in order to help him and, in the process, pursue the biggest story of her career.

The Whole Truth is marred by cliché-ridden dialogue and cartoonish villains who utter such lines as:  "I didn't bring you here for a lecture.  I brought you here to die."  The story is overly complicated and melodramatic, and the author repeatedly hammers home his heavy-handed message that unscrupulous individuals and governments intentionally mislead us by disseminating false information.  Baldacci does generate a fair amount of suspense, but his pedestrian writing, preposterous plot, and one-dimensional characters may limit the book's appeal to adrenaline junkies and fans of escapist thrillers.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 147 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Whole Truth at the author's website

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"Last Man Standing"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark DEC 01, 2001)

"Six funerals. Web attended six funerals over three days. By the fourth one, he couldn't muster a single tear. He walked into the church or the funeral home and listened to people he mostly didn't know talk about fallen men he knew better than he understood himself in some ways."

Last Man Standing by David Baldacci

Web London and the FBI's super-elite Hostage Rescue Team are sent down an alley for a surprise attack on a drug dealer's lair. The Charlie team is a tight group who have trained and worked together for many years. As they move with stealth precision towards the target, they are surprised to see a boy in the dark alley. When the kid sees them, he utters the queer words, "Damn to hell" and cackles. Uncharacteristically, this kid unnerves Web. But he proceeds with his team, working on getting his pulse beat to sixty-four and visualizing the next moments, as the team gets in position for the signal to move to "green." When the Tactical Operations Center radios to give the go ahead for the final move to the front door, Web freezes. It isn't fear or runaway nerves; Web has been doing this far too long for that. And yet, even with every muscle straining all he can manage to do is to take a few faltering steps and fall down on his gun. At five seconds to impact, Web lays helpless as he watches the Charlie team proceed and then one by one fall to the ground, all dead in seconds. Ironically, Web is the only one alive.

For an HRT guy, out surviving team members is a personal hell, nothing to be grateful about. The other FBI guys are suspicious and, even worse, distrust him to go out on mission. He can't bear the silent accusations of the widows and fatherless children who'd just as soon trade him for their lost loved one. And the press is having its usual field day, only this time it is his story they are exaggerating and manipulating. In a single moment Web London goes from hero to pariah. Web needs to understand what happened in that alley, specifically who set up his team for an ambush. This job is his life; he needs to prove his innocence to gain the trust back from the guys and for himself. There is no room in his job for less than absolute perfection and bravery. A good HRT guy does not freeze and let their team be killed without them.

Web begins a two-pronged investigation, one external to seek whomever set Charlie up and one internal where he signs on with psychiatrist, Claire Daniels. The key for both investigations seems to be the boy in the alley. After Charlie team was killed, Web still struggled with trying to move. When he saw the boy start to run directly into the line of fire, Web managed to yell at him to stop and slithered himself over to the boy. He gives the boy his hat and a note, warning of the ambush, for the boy to deliver to the reserve unit that TOC is sending in. But somehow, the FBI loses the boy before they have a chance to talk to him. Missing also is the undercover agent that provided the information on the drug lair.

Meanwhile, a judge, a prosecutor and a defense counsel are killed in three separate and apparent unrelated incidents. When Web sees this in the newspaper, he makes the connection between those deaths and Charlie team's ambush. He knows that it is the same group who caused half his face to be torn off during a hostage rescue mission. That time a boy he tried to save did not survive.

Web London is not the only one who's wondering about the ambush. Francis Westbrook, a giant of a man whose moniker is the apt "Big F," is the leader of a small drug empire. The building that HRT was taking, is in his territory, but its not a place that he's ever used, nor does he run a business on the scale that would warrant that kind of attention. The missing boy is Westbrook's brother and he'll do anything, including giving up his entire business, to get that kid back. Notwithstanding his concern for his brother, he's alert to the fact that he's got a traitor in his top echelon.

Last Man Standing is a complex psychological thriller in which the suspicions run rampant as to who set up Charlie team. At the center of this novel is a team of alpha males in which Baldacci reveals the characteristics of the type of guy that would want to do this poor paying job that boasts a motto of "Speed, surprise and violence of action." These are the good guys in a world with a lot of bad guys and they would just as soon be unemployed but the bad guys won't let them. And even though they might have love affairs with their weapons, they are earnest about trying not to use them. That said, they never fire warning shots. And they keep a hell of a lot of weapons on hand. These guys are heroes, and although they are part of the FBI, they keep their distance. After all, it is the FBI that makes the judgment call that sends them into action, so when there is a screw up, as there was in Waco, the blame tends to go directly to HRT.

Web London as the epitome of the HRT guy is a strong, loyal friend especially to his team members and their families. He, naturally, has issues dealing with his own issues. Yet, in this instance, he is unusually motivated to continue his therapy since he's the one that really wants to know what happened. As much as Baldacci paints HRT as real American heroes, by delving into this psychological side of the story he also points out the character deficiencies that cause these men to go through the most grueling training and then to subject themselves to the greatest danger. It also fills out this multi-layered plot.

This is a thick novel, a total of 548 pages, which, for someone who devours books like I do, it is well worth the money. Before I began reading it, I couldn't imagine how the author could extend what seemed to be a simple plot into so many words, and not being familiar with this writer, I was a little skeptical. I had nothing to fear, as promised, Baldacci really does know how to tell a story and to keep it moving. He delivers tactical detail without getting overly technical, but at the same time he doesn't gloss over the subject matter. It doesn't matter if its learning about HRT training, the business savvy of running a drug business in the millennium or taking a tour of Billy Canfield's horse plantation, we are fully educated in the subject matter. And none of the knowledge is wasted since it gets used in the plot. He is also a master at giving the reader just enough information so we are ahead of Web London and the FBI on solving some aspects of the case. For example, we know where the boy, Kevin Westfield, is being held hostage but Web London does not. However, we don't know who's responsible for a long time. And even as the end gets near and we think we know, there are still surprises.

Baldacci's also gets good grades for building believable characters, so much so that when their behavior is predictable, that you could almost accuse him of creating stereotypes. But that's unfair. Like in real life, we get to know people because they remind us of someone, then we know them really well, we forget that initial cast. Although all of Baldacci's novels so far are standalone, there's about a half dozen characters that I'd like to see again and the way the book ends leaves this novel wide open for a sequel. But if there isn't one, it's OK. The ending works just fine for a guy like Web London.

If you like a complex, action-packed thriller laced with the most elite of the alpha male, then don't miss out on this one.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 250 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Sean King:

Camel Club Books:

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About the Author:

David BaldacciDavid Baldacci was born in Virginia, in 1960 where he continues to reside. He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia. He practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C., as both a trial and a corporate lawyer.

He has published seven novels to date, plus a novella for the Dutch entitled Office Hours, published for a celebration in Holland where he was honored with "Thriller Writer of the Year." He has also published in the Washington Post, USA Today Magazine, Britain's Tatler Magazine and New Statesman, UVA Lawyer, Italy's Panorama Magazine, and Germany's Welt am Sonntag. He has also authored six original screenplays.

Baldacci's works have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold in more than eighty countries. All of his books have been national and international bestsellers.

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