The Fallen (Amos Decker #4), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci’s latest Amos Decker novel touches on some timely material while keeping the reader enthralled throughout. While vacationing in rural Pennsylvania, Amos Decker and his partner, Alex Jamison, seek to unwind with Alex’s sister. When Decker stumbles across a murder scene, he is unable to divorce himself from his sleuthing ways. Two men are found murdered in a home presumed to have been abandoned. This is not the first murder in Baronville of late, which has seen half a dozen bodies piling up over the last few months. While Jamison is happy to let the locals handle things, Decker pulls her into the middle of the investigation as his mind races at light speed. It would appear that someone does not want them poking around, as they are caught in a situation that leaves Decker’s mental abilities tarnished. When tragedy befalls Jamison’s family, she is happy to set the case aside, but Decker is determined to get to the bottom of everything going on, including trying to learn more about the town pariah, a man whose family has influenced the community since its inception. As Decker investigates, the dire the consequences of the opioid crisis come to the surface, where towns across America are being destroyed by new and lethal drugs on a regular basis. When Decker makes a solid connection between these drug deaths and someone in town, he will stop at nothing to reveal the full picture, even if it costs him everything. Baldacci has another winner with this novel, which keeps the reader guessing while addressing some of the poignant topics making their way into news headlines around the world. Recommended to series fans and those who enjoy a well-paced thriller that has a little of everything.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, which is as varied as his handful of central characters. He has the ability to place his protagonists in interesting predicaments while also pulling news from the headlines to make the novels even more relevant in a genre that seems supersaturated with books. Paring down the series characters, Baldacci focuses on Decker and Jamison, allowing both to develop some more of their backstories/personal sides and offering the reader something on which they can relate. It would seem that the opioid crisis is an ongoing hot button issue and Baldacci finds a way to spin it in a unique fashion to offer his own perspective without getting overly preachy. Baldacci’s subtle use of characters to portray opinions permits the reader to feel at ease throughout this controversial topic. With chapters that keep the narrative flowing effectively and keeps the reader wondering what’s coming next, Baldacci has another winner with this novel in an established series. Perhaps not the best of the novels, but still one well worth the time to read it, I can only wonder what else Baldacci has in store for his fans.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another wonderful book. I know you have plans for new and exciting series in the fall, but I hope you will not forget this series, which has been gaining momentum since its inception.

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

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The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci

Nine stars

I love this holiday classic, even if it is totally cheesy. It is one of my annual reads at this time of year and I hope it can be added to a holiday TBR list for others as well.

Baldacci brings his readers a holiday classic sure to stoke the fires of the heart and keep the holiday season on track. Tom Langdon is on a mission, to get from New York to LA in time for Christmas. After a slightly intrusive and highly problematic search by airport security, Langdon finds himself on a red-flag list, still needing to get to the City of Angels. As a seasoned journalist, he tries to make the most of his issue and decides to take to the rails aboard Amtrak’s best and brightest, writing all about his adventures. His multi-day journey puts many interesting and unique characters in his path, as well as some highly humourous adventures and even a mystery or two. As the miles fly by, Langdon discovers that there is more to the train than a slower means of getting from A to B. When someone from his past appears on the journey alongside him, Langdon discovers true meaning of the holidays and how the heart is the best guide on any of life’s trips. A nice break for Baldacci thriller readers, the book is a wonderful addition to the annual holiday traditions.

I would be remiss if I did not agree with many that this book is not cut from the usual cloth Baldacci presents. That said, its hokey nature is offset by the wonderful story Baldacci tells and the humour he is able to weave into the larger narrative. I have read this book many time before and love it each time, finding some new aspect to cherish. Baldacci is a master at storytelling and this book is proof positive that his flexible ideas can stand the test of time and genre diversification.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this holiday treat that ranks right up there with shortbread and eggnog.

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

End Game (Will Robie #5), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci is back with another in his hard-hitting Will Robie series, which matches an impactful thriller with some social commentary. After a harrowing mission in London, Will Robie is summoned to see the new Director of Central Intelligence. He’s met there by his sometimes partner, Jessica Reel, who has just come off her own mission that ended quite poorly. Together, they are informed that their handler, Roger ‘Blueman’ Walton, has gone missing during his annual vacation to Colorado. Armed with respect for their superior, Robie and Reel make the trip West in hopes of piecing this mystery together in short order. When they arrive, the two find themselves in the middle of a backwoods quagmire. The town is run by a tiny police force and populated by two distinct organizations: a collective of Neo-Nazis and a New Age group who refer to themselves as the King’s Apostles. As the investigation gathers steam, it is soon discovered that Blueman was well known in these parts, though his actual work was a complete mystery to the locals. Learning of a troubled childhood, Robie and Reel discover new respect for the man who has been leading them on numerous missions. After a significant run-in with the leader of the Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel are barely alive, but must pick up the pieces and forge onwards, trying to locate a handful of prisoners who have gone missing. Robie and Reel soon discover that there is another group who find themselves hiding out in Eastern Colorado, armed with their millions of dollars and secretive condominiums in former military outposts, awaiting the End of Days. There are more questions than answers, leaving Robie and Reel to wonder if this mission might be beyond their capabilities. With little time to ponder what the future holds, Robie and Reel must act now and sort out their past connection later. Fans of the series will surely flock to this piece, which does not let-up until the very last page. Baldacci at his best and most energetic.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, even though he seems to keep his fans dangling by creating and then shelving a series just as it gains momentum. I have often wondered if he intends to create some series that meshes some of his most beloved characters together, though I am sure trying to juggle that many plots could prove too much of a pain. For this novel, there is decent character development in the two protagonists, though their progression differs greatly. Robie, who has always been seen as a cold and calculating assassin, seems to be trying to foster something with his partner, though she is slow to pick up on his subtle hints. The rugged man who beds the helpless woman is not missing from this book, though the reader is surely wondering if Robie and Reel will ever master the art of sharpshooting Cupid’s arrows, rather than dodging them. Reel is still a slow to emerge character for me, whose past is a jumble and present seems quite focused on the mission. She has a weak side, but does not reveal it easily, though when she does, it almost seems a let-down. Together, the sexual tension seems almost unbearable, but it does not detract from the plot and cutthroat nature of the mission. The story is strong, as can be expected with Baldacci. And yet, I was not pulled to the edge of my seat through each chapter. I could see things playing out and was impressed with the pace and forward movement, but cannot say that I was kept up late into the night reading or wondering. I enjoy Baldacci and his series, but can only hope that if he is losing his passion for these two, that he will tie things off and turn his gaze onto his well-developed newer series, which also packs a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping your readers happy by writing so well. I hope you have more magic in store, though I am never sure in which direction you will take things.

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

The Fix (Amos Decker #3), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci surfaces with another Amos Decker fast-paced thriller, keeping readers hooked from its explosive start through to the final, lingering sentences. While walking outside the FBI’s Hoover Building, Amos Decker witnesses a woman shot in apparent cold blood before the shooter turns the gun on himself. With the environs in shock, Decker uses his eidetic memory to capture the scene before reporting to his FBI Task Force. Usually handed cold cases, the team turns its attention to the murder of Anne Berkshire at the hands of one Walter Dabney. What might have led Dabney to gun down a substitute teacher who volunteered at the local hospice? It is only when they dig further that the extent to Dabney’s problems arise. Formerly employed with the NSA, Dabney appears to have amassed much debt and has been borrowing to pay it off? That being said, Decker is left confused when the DIA (Defence Intelligency Agency) begins poking around and tries to take control of the investigation. Using his synesthesia and hyperthymesia, Decker is able to help the team explore deeper motives and potential witnesses, which open new avenues of investigation. With no clear backstory on Anne Berkshire, might she have been hiding from a less than stellar past? Could Dabney’s attack on her could be the tip of something larger and much more sinister? In D.C., nothing is as it seems, leaving Decker to hope he can get to the root cause and bring closure to the Dabney family, whose shock grows with each new piece of information. Well paced and sure to keep most Baldacci fans pleased until the final page-turn. 

I have long been a Baldacci fan and find myself still hooked after this novel. Amos Decker stands alone when compared to other thriller protagonists on the market today, making the series novels highly interesting and entertaining. Baldacci has brought another wonderful plot to the forefront and spun a tale that keeps the reader on their toes, while also injecting the perfect number of twists. Steeped in political struggles of the day, Baldacci turns to a mix of the Middle Eastern and neo-Cold War clashes, without instilling too many stereotypes within each chapter. Strong returning characters provide the reader with a foundation on which to base their expectations, permitting growth and sideways development. While Decker’s backstory has been revealed in the previous two novels, there are moments of reflection that provide new insight for the reader. Peppering new characters and leaving the door open for their return again allows Baldacci to offer great subplots, injecting humour into what is normally a darker subject. All those who grace the pages of the book can stand well on their own and mesh well with some Decker’s quirks, paving the way for a great story that can be devoured in short order. Baldacci continues to shine in a genre that has long been supersaturated, though I will admit this was not his absolute best work. I have seen some fans who have shared a less than exuberant sentiment when they completed the novel. One might posit their issue is rooted in the lack of synesthesia-based writing, which left them a sense of being cheated. However, I cannot speak for them or their personal struggles with the story. There is always room for improvement and Baldacci shows that he, too, is fallible.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping the series strong and the stories sharp. I look forward to each new book you have and can assure you that I remain a fervent fan of all your work.