Stone Cold by David Baldacci

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Stone Cold by David Baldacci

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fixer of security problems is more than he seems, as is the past of many characters, in this very well structured thriller.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230017757

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Harry Finn is a liver of a cloyingly pleasant American Dream of a life - lovely wife, lovely kids, everything just very nice. So what's he doing smuggling himself onto a commercial jet, having loaded another with a suspicious package?

No need to worry, though - he is a "de-bugger" of security problems, sent in by those very high up in such matters to detect flaws that terrorists could breach and take advantage of. He's really the loving family man he at first appears. So what's he doing killing someone whose name is on a mental list of a few others with secret agent skill?

That's the first four pages or so wrapped up. The book does not quite manage to scale that up a hundredfold for the rest, but it goes some way to give us a convoluted, dramatic thriller of a distinct style.

You can add to Finn Annabelle Conroy, an expert con-artist, and the beef she has with a vicious, dodgy casino owner she has just swindled out of forty million dollars. She does not really want help in her hiding from the vengeful Jerry Bagger, but the Camel Club gives her it - a select few people with deathly secretive pasts, led by - well, he at first appears to be an old bum working and living in a cemetery, on closer look is a tax-dodging, bureaucracy-hating loner calling himself after Oliver Stone, but secretly is an expert assassin of old, with a connection to everyone else in this world.

It is a world that might at first glance be a little unwelcome, for only twice throughout the book does anyone do the wrong thing - everyone else is perfectly adept at hiding themselves away, espionage, murder - or staying alive. But the reader should stick through that first image, and the awkwardness the first few chapters might give in remembering who is whom, and they will be rewarded by a good story.

It was only slowly that I gathered that some of the characters, especially the Camel Club, had featured in previous David Baldacci books - I'm not a thriller fan as such and wouldn't have known they were the title characters of one. I can assure his fans this is no tacked-on book with lazy sequelitis. At times I was really wanting the Conroy scam to start much quicker than it did, but I was being led down the wrong path - this book is about that and a lot more.

It loses a few tiny marks for the bluntness of Baldacci when he gives his characters anti-Capitol Hill thoughts, and there are four sentences I counted that were purely unrealistic, and would never be able to be spoken by any character anywhere. Also there is a slight element of predictability in one major story arc, but for the rest the time the book rattles along well, and for this only occasional dabbler into the genre, does it with distinction.

There is of course precedence for many thrillers - this when it boils down to it is a whodunwhat. Con-artists, casino gangsters, FBIs taking criminals into hiding, drop-outs with a past - all have been used before. Whereas here the characters - all well-drawn and interesting - are taken out of cliché, and worked into what boils down as... well, you can email the site if you want me to finish that sentence, but I won't just now.

If anybody has any problem with the book other than the aforementioned, it might be the sexless, almost-PG style approach to the story, but more likely will be because the slow drip-drip of information about the secretive past events is just too slow for them. I wondered at times if I was feeling this, but read the book very gladly in two sittings, and feel now that it is a thriller well worth recommending to fans of the genre.

If this book was in cheaper, paperback form, it could well have earned four and a half stars. Fans of this author will be rightly eager to snap it up as early as possible, and for thriller fans in paperback it should be considered a must-purchase.

I must thank the publishers for sending the Bookbag a copy to sample.

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