Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stone Cold

David Baldacci, after quite a few stand-alone novels, started two series almost around the same time. One featured the Camel Club, a group of four conspiracy theorists who get pulled into some high-level political games in Washington while the other featured the duo of displaced secret agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, dealing with lesser-profile crimes. While the latter series caught my interest more initially, the former has definitely grown on me with its stronger novels. Stone Cold finds the Camel Club, now expanded with one more partner, dealing with an age-old secret that has come back to haunt one of their members. Fast-paced and suspenseful, it upholds Baldacci's reputation.

Harry Finn is working for a company used by the Department of Homeland Security to discover breaches in the security of high-profile locations. But he is also on a personal mission to take revenge on a particular group of people and pretty soon, this leads him to Oliver Stone, the leader of the Camel Club. Meanwhile, Jerry Bagger is in pursuit of Annabelle Conroy who swindled him of $40 million (in The Collectors) and Stone takes it upon himself to save her.

Baldacci's plots have always been rather outlandish and that continues here too. Whether Finn's actions(like infiltrating high-security locations) as part of his job or the book's key plot point itself, things are routinely far-fetched and frequently implausible. Many of the story's aspects, like government assassins who are now targeted by their own ex-employers, also give us a feeling of deja vu. Things are also a lot simpler than in earlier books by Baldacci. There are multiple tracks but they are more straightforward and there are fewer characters to keep track of. But as always, Baldacci never lets the pace flag. By having multiple tracks, narrating the story from the points of view of many characters and revealing the suspense one piece at a time, he makes sure that we keep turning the pages.

A novel's job is half done with interesting characters and the Camel Club's leader Oliver Stone is definitely one. Almost superhuman when it comes to skills he honed during his life as a soldier, Baldacci presents him as a secretive, charismatic man who looks out for his friends. His action scenes are terrific and even believable since he is a one-man army. Annabelle Conroy comes a close second with her brainy cons, spunk and sharp wits. While she spends most of the book running away from Bagger, she has her moments, especially when she gets back to planning a con with her dad. With these two getting the lion's share of the book, the other members of the club get the short shrift but they do have their moments. Harry Finn is the newcomer in Stone Cold and the combination of an interesting job, a fascinating history, the secret mission and his other life as a devoted husband and father make him eminently interesting too.

Authors who have a series with multiple protagonists(like James Patterson with his Women's Murder Club series) usually resort to a plot device to shock us and reinvigorate the series. Its disappointing that Baldacci too resorts to this, especially since it is quite early in the series. The plot point does lead to an exhilaratingly visceral scene with Oliver Stone but still feels a bit needless. Another frustrating plot point used by authors(James Patterson is guilty of this too, especially lately) is the open-ended finish where the bad guys live to see another book. But Baldacci doesn't do this. The book looks to be headed that way but we get closure and in a very satisfying way that makes us close the book with a smile.


At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear the book is good. I actually went to the library a few weeks ago with plans of picking up Stone Cold but ended up picking Split Second which is the first book in the Sean King & Michelle Maxwell series (because Stone Cold wasn't in). I have read the previous books in the Camel Club series on your recommendation and loved it, so I am hoping this one is the same too.

At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Used to be a huge fan of both Baldacci and Grisham (read all their novels) and then came the phase of likes of Painted House, Skipping Christmas and I just stopped reading both of their work.

So Balaji for someone who used to be a huge fan of the old Baldacci works, where would you suggest I start picking up his books from again. Camel Club?

At 6:57 PM, Blogger Bart said...

"Kannum Kannum" has been getting good reviews this week. Not running here at KL :(
Am happy for Prasanna, who is having a very good start to 2008 with Sadhu Miranda, Anjathey and now this...

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

balaji, yes i remember reading that post on ur website. this one is more about oliver stone and less about the camel club but i liked it nevertheless :)

sivajini, i didn't read either of those books u mention since i knew they were going outside the genres they usually wrote in. yes, u could start with 'camel club' or 'split second', which was the 1st book in the other series. just don't expect anything in the quality of 'absolute power' :)

bart, yeah its getting some good reviews. as for the big screen, the one here was 'saadhu mirandaa' and so u can imagine how parched i am! they've finally announced that 'yaaradi nee mohini' will be screened apr 4th and so 2 more weeks to go :)

At 1:46 AM, Blogger Nagesh.MVS said...

I red the previous books in the Camel Club series on your recommendation and loved it, so I am hoping this one is the same too.

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