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Book Talk: Baldacci’s not-so ‘Simple Genius’

Simple Genius (2007, 420 pages) is Book #3 in David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series. I believe that any of the three books that I’ve read so far can stand on their own, but I’d advise reading them in order. The first was Split Second (2003, 360 pages) and it explains how the duo came together. In it, Sean King is a Secret Service agent who is distracted when the presidential candidate to whom he is assigned is assassinated.

Eight years later, Secret Service Agent Michelle Maxwell is assigned to protect another candidate. Her candidate is kidnapped in a funeral parlor. Maxwell sees King on TV when a dead body turns up in his office, and decides to look into his background and current case because he and she were both disgraced in similar circumstances.

In Book #2 (Hour Game, 2004, 440 pages), King and Maxwell are partners in their own private detective agency, and they’ve been hired to investigate a burglary at the home of Southern aristocrats. Meanwhile, they are pulled into a case involving a “copycat” serial killer. As the plot progresses, the reader sees a bond forming between the two sleuths.

Simple Genius opens with Michelle Maxwell voluntarily committed to a psychiatric facility, suspected of orchestrating her “suicide” by challenging the biggest, baddest bruiser in a bar and deliberately losing the fight. While Maxwell “plays games” with psychiatrist Horatio Barnes, King is probing an alleged suicide of a scientist whose body is found at a mysterious CIA installation called Babbage Town, adjacent to Camp Peary, Virginia.

Babbage Town, named after the 19th Century inventor who developed plans for the first computer, is home to a number of geniuses, including Viggie, an 11-year-old girl whose use of mathematics surpasses that of her professors. Viggie’s recently-decease father was part of the team that was working on a breakthrough in computer coding that could bring “the world as we know it to a screeching halt.”

Because her father passed on certain coded clues to her before he died, Viggie is extremely vulnerable. And, Sean suspects that a number of alleged suicide victims, as well as her father, were actually murdered. After Michelle declares herself to be “cured” and joins King, she bonds with Viggie and becomes her principal protector.

Baldacci engages the reader in the book’s opening and keeps us turning pages with an entertaining, yet complex, plot that pits King and Maxwell not only against a host of murder suspects, but also the FBI, CIA, NSA, and their own sense of survival. Without becoming erudite, he also teaches us something about the complexity of modern quantum computers and their potential to change the world.

There are currently three more books in the King and Maxwell series, and they are in my stack of TBR (To Be Read) books. So far, I think that Simple Genius is the best of the series, but I’ve enjoyed all of Baldacci’s novels and don’t expect to be disappointed.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at


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