David Baldacci

"Hour Game"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 19, 2004)

By now, you find the girl. She's all cut up, but that ain't me. Cut her up looking for clues. Ain't none. Trust me. The watch don't lie. She was numero uno. But more numbers to come. Lot's of 'em. One more thing. I ain't, repeat, ain't the Zodiac. Or his second or third or fourth coming. I am me. It ain't going be that easy don't you know. By the time I'm done you wish it be just Zodiac."

Hour Game by David Baldacci

A third of the way through The Hour Game, I asked myself what more could a reader want in a mystery /suspense thriller than what author David Baldacci has offered up in his latest novel? There are two fascinating protagonists with great mutual chemistry, interesting secondary characters, an intriguing plot and a bevy of subplots. Needless to say, I looked forward, with delight, to reading the rest of the book - only to be let down, cruelly.

I just hate to be disappointed by a novel. I am an avid reader and pride myself on my ability to concentrate. However, Baldacci introduces so many characters of great import, and more of lesser standing, along with so many plots, subplots, potential plots and all sorts of motives, that I found it difficult to keep them all straight. And this book is far too long! I began to study the novel, actually taking notes, as if it were homework for a class in thermodynamics. Not fun! I just finished reading many positive reviews for The Hour Game and am beginning to wonder if I am the only one who was effected negatively. Although I am tempted to fudge a bit on the rating and go with the crowd, I have to call it as I see it. Reviewer's integrity and all that.

 Mr. Baldacci introduced us to two disgraced secret service agents in Split Second, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. Since we last saw them, these two have changed careers and joined forces by becoming partners in a private investigation firm, King and Maxwell, located in smalltown Wrightsburg, Virginia. This odd couple, of sorts, is what makes the novel work. Their combined energy, skills, intelligence and humor cannot be beat. King is a "neatnick," everything-in-its-place type. He is a connoisseur of rich food and fine wine, and a steady rock when it comes to dependability. Michelle is a slob! Seriously. Her place is a mess and she is impulsive to boot. A super athlete and health food addict, there's nothing she likes more, (almost), than to row her boat many miles and return to a large spinach salad, multigrain bread and carrot juice.

The two respect each other's differences because there's real affection between them. No romance yet...but there are possibilities. To add romantic tension, a former love of King's, the attractive medical examiner, Sylvia Diaz, is introduced - like we really needed another character. While out jogging Michelle discovers a dead body. The woman's corpse had been posed and a Zodiac watch, which didn't belong to her, was affixed to her wrist. The time was set to one o'clock. Was the killer trying to mimic the infamous Zodiac Killer? Murders #2 and #3 are of a young couple parked and necking at a favorite make-out site. The weapon - a shotgun. A dog collar was left on the floorboard of their car. Is this a Son of Sam copycat? Are the murders related and what is the message and motive? How are the corpses connected? The bizarre killings continue, each scene evoking aspects of former famous serial killers, and each death marked by a precise time.

Police Chief Todd Williams deputizes King and Maxwell. The PIs make little sense of it all. See, I'm not the only one! Maxwell asks, "Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you're not them?" During this turmoil, attorney Harry Lee Carrick hires the two detectives to investigate a burglary, allegedly committed by his client, handyman Junior Deavor. The robbery took place on the estate of the town's wealthiest and most formidable family, the Battle clan - Southern gothic at its best. Is the entire family, and their history going back to the Civil War, introduced to prop up the plot or to confuse the reader? 

Then the puzzles really begin. Who is/are the killer(s)? Who stole what from whom? Motive(s)? How to keep all the characters straight? Who gets killed next? Will Michelle and Sean ever get together? And so on. I did enjoy some of the novel, especially the interaction and banter between King and Maxwell. The plot concerning the serial killer is interesting, as are some of the characters. Bottom line, if you're a Baldacci fan, you'll probably like this one, even the confusing parts. All evidence says that other fans of the genre will likely also enjoy this twist on a the serial killer thriller.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 199 reviews


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"Split Second"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie DEC 8, 2004)

"King pointed his pistol at the chest of the assassin. He gave no warning, called out not one constitutional right accorded the assassin under American jurisprudence. His duty now clear, he fired once, and then again, though the first time was enough. It dropped the man right where he stood. The assassin never said a word, as though he expected to die for what he'd done, and accepted the terms stoically like a good martyr should. And all martyrs left behind people like King, the ones who were blamed for letting it happen in the first place. Three men had actually died that day, and King had been one of them.

Sean Ignatius King, born August 1, 1960, died September 26, 1996, in a place never even heard of until the final day of his life. And yet he had it far worse than the others who had fallen. They went tidily into their coffins and were forever mourned by those who loved them - or at least loved what they stood for. The soon-to-be-ex-Secret-Service agent King had no such luck. After his death his unlikely burden was to keep right on living."

Split Second by David Baldacci

Sean King, Secret Service agent extraordinaire, with great career potential, is guarding a presidential candidate on a campaign stop in Smalltown USA. King's attention is diverted for one instant, and good cause, when the candidate, Clyde Ritter, is shot dead. Agent King recovers his composure immediately and shoots the assassin. The killer dies. So does King's career.

Eight years later Secret Service agent and girl wonder Michelle Maxwell is on a career fast track in a profession where only men succeed. Agent Maxwell, a former Olympic rower, is the exception to the rule. She has her sights set on White House duty guarding the president and she just might get the gig. She is presently guarding a presidential candidate, John Bruno, who is making an unscheduled stop at a funeral home to pay his respects to the deceased. The room is vacated except for the candidate, the corpse and the widow. Bruno insists on time alone, without security. Uncomfortable with the candidate's decision, Maxwell, and fellow agents stand outside the closed door, 99% sure their charge will be safe. He is kidnapped right out from under their noses. Michelle may still have a job, but her career is over. She is determined, however, to find John Bruno before he is killed - if indeed, he is still alive.

Former agent King is now living in a house he designed and built on a quiet lakefront in Virginia. He went back to school for a law degree and shares a practice in town. Sean reads of agent Maxwell's fall from grace and feels great empathy because of his similar experience. His empathy chills considerably when Ms. Maxwell shows up at his door with some questions and a theory that the murder and the kidnapping, eight years apart, just may be related. She provides some convincing arguments, and it doesn't hurt that King is wildly attracted to her, so he considers the ramifications of working with Michelle on the case. Then he finds a body, dead, in his law office. Just about this time, an old flame and colleague of King's, Joan Dillenger, turns up, apparently on-the-make. They haven't seen each other in eight years. She was with him the day before the assassination and stayed with him that night in his hotel room, leaving her black lace panties on the ceiling light fixture for the maid to remove the following morning.

Joan, Michelle and Sean combine their considerable resources to solve this mystery which just keeps getting more complicated - and interesting. But there is someone out there, in the background, with even more resources, who is playing them all with extraordinary expertise.

I was disappointed with David Baldacci's Split Second. Unlike his previous works it is definitely not a strong, tightly written novel, although it could have been a real winner. Throughout much of the book, the thrills, adventure and mystery are certainly present and do keep the reader turning the pages. The three main characters are interesting, unusual and well developed. So, what's wrong? The second half of the novel falls apart. The pace slows; the tension diminishes; the characters begin to act out of character, and turn into cardboard figures without much rationale for their actions. The villain, who has such potential to be a really bad guy, is totally one-dimensional - pure evil incarnate with no complexity, more like a cartoon than a human being. There's a fascinating love triangle which should have taken-off - but falls flat. And after the terrific opening and much of the first half, the conclusion is weak. The book ends with a peep, not a bang! If you are a Baldacci fan, then the book is certainly worth reading. It's just a shame he didn't tighten up his narrative and hone the plot.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 190 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Sean King:

Camel Club Books:

Movies from 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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