Book Talk: Baldacci, ‘First Family’
David Baldacci is one of my all-time favorite authors. I can read his “stand-alone” books in any order, regardless of the date of publication. However, I prefer and strongly recommend reading his “series” books (e.g., The Camel Club, Will Robie, etc.) in order. “First Family” (2009, 452 pages) brings Sean King and Michelle Maxwell together in the fourth book of the King & Maxwell series.
The two former Secret Service agents met in “Split Second,” became partners in “Hour Game,” and dealt with Michelle’s psychological baggage, as well as a group of enigmatic scientists, in “Simple Genius.”
“First Family” begins with a birthday party, balloons, cake, and a kidnapping. The fact that this occurs at Camp David, the private retreat of the President of the United States, turns the crime into a national security incident.
The victim is the niece of First Lady Jane Cox, and Jane hires her old friend Sean (and his partner Michelle) to find the precocious twelve-year-old Willa. With the power of the White House behind them, Sean and Michelle are able to trample over the rules of protocol and step on a lot of toes, including those of the FBI and Secret Service.
The plot revolves around a scheme developed over decades of planning by 62-year-old Sam Quarry, a complex character who lives in an old plantation house, known as Atlee, in the deep south. The house had been passed down from a generation of slave owners, and that is an embarrassment to Sam, who would otherwise impress even Jeff Foxworthy as a “redneck.” However, his brilliant trap proves that he’s “smarter than a fifth grader.” A lot smarter.
A clue, deliberately left by Sam’s idiot son Daryl, leads Sean and Michelle to Alabama, and Sean’s army buddy helps to pinpoint the location where Willa is being held. But, as the search is in progress, Willa becomes acquainted with another hostage, Diane. That, too, is engineered by Sam, the barnyard genius who has challenged the power of every branch of law-enforcement service in the United States.
While all this is being revealed, Michelle has to deal with the demise of her mother, and she suspects that the death may have been caused by her father. This causes a bit of friction with her four brothers, all of whom are cops, as was her father.
This is definitely a “thinking person’s” novel. You can’t help falling in love with Willa who handles her situation with aplomb. And you can’t help hating Sam, although Baldacci does a great job of showing his soft and compassion side, especially for Gabriel, the son of his housekeeper.
The deeper I got into this book, the more I liked it, and the faster I turned the pages. As I approached the conclusion, I kept glancing at the clock. It was the early morning hours and I tried to put the book down and go to sleep. But I had to turn the light back on and finish the story. You’ll do the same.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.