A Minute to Midnight (Atlee Pine #2), by David Baldacci

Nine stars

Continuing some of his masterful writing, David Baldacci returns with a second novel in his Atlee Pine series, which delves even deeper into a mystery three decades in the making. After a dust-up while on duty in Arizona, FBI Agent Atlee Pine agrees to take a vacation of sorts. As she is still trying to piece together clues about her twin sister’s disappearance thirty years before, Atlee heads to rural Georgia with her Bureau assistant. When they arrive in Andersonville, Atlee sees that things are mostly as she remembers them, though her presence has brought people out of the woodwork. Filling in some gaps in a narrative that Atlee had created, the disappearance of Mercy Pine remains a massive mystery. Remembering that she and Mercy were excitable six year-olds at the time, Atlee wonders if her mind was slightly foggy about how the mystery man got into their room. Discussing the matter with some who knew her parents at the time, Atlee begins to see that much of the story she knew hinges on misconceptions, though she is not yet ready to give up. While there, the body of a woman turns up, someone that none of the locals can identify. Could this be a coincidence, or is someone trying to send a message? Atlee begins working the case, though must follow the lead of an investigator with whom she has a poor history, as she is visiting in an unofficial capacity. When more bodies turn up, Atlee must wonder if there is some symbolism to the entire experience and whether someone in Andersonville might have played a part in Mercy’s disappearance while her parents were clueless and incapacitated. Atlee has no intention of leaving the Deep South without answers, but the one who is most forthcoming might be locked away on the other side of the country. A strong story that keeps the reader engaged until the final reveal, with a wonderful cliffhanger, Baldacci has found new and exiting ways to mix story and character development in this piece. Recommended to those who love a good police procedural with a great deal of investigating, as well as the reader who has long been a Baldacci fan.

I have long been a fan of David Baldacci’s work and enjoy his constant new ideas for series that seem to come out of his publications as fast as I can read them. I remember enjoying the debut novel in the Atlee Pine series and found this one to be just as enjoyable, as the tensions mount surrounding Mercy Pine’s disappearance in 1989. The story uses Atlee’s ongoing curiosity about her sister’s disappearance to permit the reader to see some of the backstory that she brings to the novel. What Baldacci has done by sending Atlee to Georgia is offer up more backstory and fill in gaps to create a fuller and more complex Atlee Pine for the reader to enjoy. There are numerous moments of revelation that even Atlee could not have predicted, which thickens the plot. Her development in the present is tested as well, as she tries to define herself as an FBI agent while seeking answers for a past that remains so shrouded. Others who make appearances in the novel prove to be just as exciting and allow the reader to better understand the larger picture. Be they friends of the parental Pines or those who have crossed paths with Atlee in her adult life, Baldacci leaves no path untraveled and this enriched the story for me. I loved the concept of the return to Georgia. While a friend of mine on Goodreads ‘pined’ (pardon the pun) for a full-on investigation into the Mercy disappearance, the fact that another case takes centre stage pleased me. While I want to know everything about Mercy Pine and her kidnapping, I think it is too soon in the series to solve this electrifying mystery. Readers need more Atlee Pine chipping away, as she is greatly defined in the novel as “the sister who was not taken”. I feel Baldacci is doing well by stringing the reader along for a while longer. The dialogue and characters are both believable and worth investing the reading time to discover, as Baldacci never lets things go flat. The dedicated reader will likely come out of this reading experience happy they took the time to read this book, if only to learn more about Atlee Pine and the struggles with which she wrestles daily.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another winner. I could not read this one fast enough and am eager to see what’s coming next.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons