Book Talk: Baldacci, ‘The Sixth Man’

David Baldacci has written 43 novels for adults since the publication of his first book, “Absolute Power,” in 1996. I’ve read nearly all of them, but I was late coming to his King and Maxwell series. “The Sixth Man” (2011, 432 pages) is the fifth title in the set of six books, and the plot involves the most serious national security threat.


Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, both former Secret Service agents, are private investigators who are looking into the case against Edgar Roy, an analyst with an eidetic memory squared. In other words, he remembers everything, even the number of cars that are encountered on a trip from Maine to D.C., including their license plates.


But when defense attorney Ted Bergin contacts Sean and Michelle, Edgar Roy is imprisoned in a supermax federal facility in Maine. Formerly “The Analyst,” an anonymous federal employee who had the uncanny ability to sit for hours facing The Wall on which were streamed reports from every U.S. intelligence agency. Only Edgar Roy was able to synthesize all of the information and suggest everything from foreign policy to the locale of domestic terrorist cells. However, he is now charged with being a serial killer.


If Bergin had not been Sean’s beloved mentor when he was studying the law, he would have turned down the job. As he and Michelle are driving to Maine to meet Edgar Roy, they find a vehicle on the side of the road, its emergency lights blinking. Ted Bergin is inside the car, a bullet in his head. At this point, we recognize that whatever the circumstances may be concerning Edgar Roy, Sean and Michelle are involved in the case, no matter what happens.


And, of course, what happens is bewildering. Edgar Roy, a shy, brilliant, and lonely man seems completely disinterested in assisting with his case. He’s deeply troubled about his recommendations based on his analysis of The Wall. And, the concept of The Wall is, itself, an intriguing aspect of the book. Simply trying to imagine the amount of data that flows through the intelligence alphabet (FBI, CIA, NAS, DHS, etc.) hour by hour is, to say the least, challenging. The problem can be summed up with an anonymous quotation at the opening of the novel, “The only thing potentially worse than not being able to see the forest for the trees is not being able to see the trees because of the forest.”


In “The Sixth Man” even the forest becomes obscured when Murdock, a highly suspect federal agent, tries to pin Bergin’s murder on Sean and Michelle. This leads to a roller-coast-type chase up and down the northeast seaboard, and the way is cluttered with dead bodies, false leads, ambitious captains of industry, and the combined forces of several U.S. agencies.


When I read this novel, I knew that there was a sixth, and final, entry in the King and Maxwell series, and I wondered how Baldacci could possible top this for suspense, action, and surprises.


Enjoy.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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