Today’s best thriller writers on one hundred classics of the genre…
My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at David Baldacci’s Absolute Power.
In a heavily guarded mansion in a posh Virginia suburb, a man and a woman start to make love, trapping Luther Whitney, a career break-in artist, behind a secret wall. Then the passion turns deadly, and Luther is running into the night. Because what he has just seen is a brutal murder involving Alan Richmond, the president of the United States, the man with… Absolute Power.
Rhodi Hawk starts off by recapping the political scene at the time Baldacci’s debut novel was published. The Cold War was over, and a lot of the international focus many thrillers of previous decades had thrived on was being replaced by domestic concerns. She also points out the interesting coincidence that this book — which starts with a presidential tryst gone horribly wrong — was published shortly before the Clinton sex scandals.
There are a lot of points of view surrounding the murder and what happens afterward, but Hawk is particularly interested in the perspective of the Secret Service agents. After all, they were doing their jobs… at least at first. But, in the aftermath, they’re now “torn between keeping the president safe and covering for his stupidity, and they don’t have time to think. The decisions they make in the heat of the moment cannot be taken back.” The veteran agent in particular struggles with making the right choices. While taking a bullet for the President may be more dangerous, even fatal, it’s also a much simpler decision.
This was the first David Baldacci book I ever read, and, after having read nearly everything he’s published since, I still think it’s one of his best. The beginning is “unforgettable,” as Hawk puts it, and the ending is equally intense. The middle is where it shows some of its weaknesses as a debut. There were some spots where the pacing was off and pulled me out of the story. Some of the subplots could have been balanced a little better. But overall, re-reading it, I found it just as gripping as it was the first time I read it.
I feel like Baldacci has, for the most part, tightened up his storytelling over the years. His thrillers have become more streamlined, and on the whole they’re better for it. Still, there’s something about this first one, even with its faults, that some of his more recent books just don’t have. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite Baldacci thriller, but it’s up there. And it definitely deserves its place on the list.
Two down, ninety-eight to go…