The Mighty Johns: A Novella, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Fans of David Baldacci know that he possesses a great versatility when it comes to writing. I have experienced a variety of his work and enjoyed most of it. This is a unique novella, a mystery four decades in the making, with college football as an underlying theme. Baldacci keeps things sharp for the reader who has only a short time to invest, or those seeking a ‘bridge piece’ between two longer reading commitments.

Draven Univerisy prides itself on its football team, the Mighty Johns. Their most prominent player, Herschel Ruggles, is still spoken in the halls and many who are old enough remember where they were during one of his award-winning catches. Four decades ago, Ruggles made an astounding touchdown catch and then simply disappeared into the bowels of the stadium, never to be seen again. No one was able to make heads or tails of it, adding to the lore.

The disappearance is still mentioned and it is only when a new player— Merl North—begin shattering the Ruggles records, that the mystery resurfaces. North has a penchant for science and must have answers, beginning his own investigation into the disappearance. What North finds only adds to the mystery, though this is one problem that demands a solution, even if it costs North all he has. It’s an eerie intervention that may point in the direct of truth once and for all.

While I am used to gritty mysteries that include the US Government, Baldacci is able to move outside of his apparent comfort zone and dazzle the reader with ease. There’s something about the writing style and narrative flow that keeps me interested, as I flip pages with ease to get a little deeper into the story. Originally penned as part of a collection of shorter writings, Baldacci’s piece works well as a standalone publication.

With little time to waste, Baldacci develops his characters from the opening pages and keeps adding to their backstory as the mystery builds. This is not uncommon and the reader is forced to keep pace or risk being left behind. Many of the faces that appear in this piece could just as easily be used as secondary characters in any of Baldacci’s prominent series.

While the book opened with a strong scientific analysis of football, things soon fell into place and I was able to enjoy the narrative without investing too much devoted concentration. The plot emerged and the mystery gained the needed momentum to create something the reader could latch onto quickly. With a little flashback here and there, things definitely caught my attention and held it until the final reveal. While I do enjoy some of the more intense Baldacci thrillers, this was a great treat that filled a short gap in my reading list.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for tossing a Hail Mary that worked well!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: