Friday, February 24, 2012

David Baldacci Counts Down Zero Day

When U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division investigator John Puller is assigned to investigate the murder of a family in West Virginia's mining country, the military's immediate interest is expected. The murdered man was a retiring Defense Intelligence Agency colonel stationed at the Pentagon.

The murders were grisly, but it was the oddity of the way the bodies were found that was unnerving. All four of them — Colonel Reynolds, his wife, and two children — were moved and lined up on a couch in the living room, sitting up. The home was not their own; no one knows why they were staying there.

Puller is dispatched with orders to allow uniformed local law enforcement to take the lead on the investigation, using finesse whenever possible to keep the military in the loop and take charge as necessary. Although unflappable and professional, taking a back seat doesn't fit his personality.

Zero Day starts off as a police procedural, but something lurks below the surface.

The first front of the book invests most of its time laying the foundation. Baldacci not only introduces the environment, but also many of the players. He is especially keen on fleshing out the background and relationships of Puller, his family, Sgt. Samantha Cole (a.k.a. Sam), and her family.

Puller's father is a legendary major general; his brother has been convicted of treason. After her parents died a few years ago, Cole's sister married a coal mining tycoon and her brother has mostly dropped out, unable to cope with the family's loss. All of the characters are well sketched, even bit players who only appear once.

He also does a fair job painting a picture of West Virginia coal country even if some West Virginians have said that Baldacci isn't accurate. Some of his suppositions are grounded in research, however, such as mountaintop removal and other forms of economic development. What is a little less plausible is that the economically depressed are inclined to loot the deceased.

Then again, it's difficult to believe Baldacci might have grounded this idea in something else. He doesn't write from New York or Los Angeles. He is a native of Virginia and still resides there.

While most other characters are flawed to varying degrees, Puller is near perfect in his analytical, physical, and people skills. For the most part, his only shortcomings stem from the higher bar he has set for himself. He is prone to suggest others set their bars higher too.

At times it makes him come off as self-righteous and even super human, but that doesn't necessarily make him unlikeable. He is likable, even if his near perfection makes him and the story a little more predictable in that he will eventually win (but win against what or at what cost is unknown). Other than that, a few misplaced chapters, and some stereotype cliches, especially in the dialogue, there is no question Baldacci is a gifted writer.

As the bigger conspiracy surfaces, the case is intriguing for awhile. 

When the novel shifts its focus from the murders to the bigger conspiracy — a national nuclear threat — it becomes considerably more interesting as a paranoid thriller. There are people in the world who would like nothing better than to exploit the remnants of hidden, long-abandoned military facilities.

While the threat is grounded in a plausible idea, one of those that reminds people that probably fact might read stranger than fiction, some elements of the end game become less plausible. It is almost overwhelmingly convenient that his treasonous brother can play a critical role.

A couple graphs about author David Baldacci. 

Originally a corporate and trial attorney in Washington D.C., Baldacci's debut novel immediately catapulted his career as a writer, especially after Absolute Power was made into a major motion picture. Since, Baldacci has published 22 additional novels (many of which carry an "absolute power corrupts" theme) and scores of articles.

Baldacci's passion for literature extends beyond writing novel and articles. He also the founder of two worthwhile foundations. The Wish You Well Foundation, which was founded with his wife, supports family literacy by promoting new and developing education programs. His other organization, Feeding Body & Mind distributes used books to people who are also receiving food assistance from Feeding America.

Zero Day By David Baldacci Counts Down To 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While the story is sharp enough and better than average, you will find plenty of people who seem irked by his latest creation (beyond West Virginians). There are some especially interesting comments by people who purport to be Marines, CID, and Lee Child fans (because of Puller's resemblance to Jack Reacher).

Zero Day by David Baldacci is available from Amazon and the novel can be ordered from Barnes & Noble. You can also download the book from iBooks or listen to the audio version from iTunes. The audiobook is read by Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy, which gives the story more depth with both readers covering appropriate genres.
blog comments powered by Disqus