January 15, 1996
Casting the president of the United States as a crazed villain isn't a new idea--Fletcher Knebel worked it 30 years ago, in Night of Camp David--but in this sizzler of a first novel, Baldacci, a D.C. attorney, proves that the premise still has long legs. The action begins when a grizzled professional cat burglar gets trapped inside the bedroom closet of one of the world's richest men, only to witness, through a one-way mirror, two Secret Service agents kill the billionaire's trampy young wife as she tries to fight off the drunken sexual advances of the nation's chief executive. Running for his life, but not before he picks up a bloodstained letter opener that puts the president at the scene of the crime, the burglar becomes the target of a clandestine manhunt orchestrated by leading members of the executive branch. Meanwhile, Jack Graham, once a public defender and now a high-powered corporate attorney, gets drawn into the case because the on-the-lam burglar just happens to be the father of his former financee, a crusading Virginia prosecutor. Embroidering the narrative through assorted plot whorls are the hero's broken romance; his conflict over selling out for financial success; the prosecutor's confused love-hate for her burglar father; the relentless investigation by a northern Virginia career cop; the dilemma of government agents trapped in a moral catch-22; the amoral ambitions of a sexy White House Chief of Staff; and the old burglar's determination to bring down the ruthless president. Meanwhile, lurking at the novel's center like a venomous spider is the sociopathic president. Baldacci doesn't peer too deeply into his characters' souls, and his prose is merely functional--in both respects, he's much closer to Grisham than to, say, Forsyth; but he's also a first-rate storyteller who grabs readers by their lapels right away and won't let go until they've finished his enthralling yarn. Major ad/promo; BOMC alternate; film rights sold to Castle Rock; simultaneous Time Warner AudioBook.