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The Innocent by David Baldacci

Published by Grand Central on April 17, 2012

As The Innocent opens, Will Robie is carrying out a mission for his Agency masters.  He assassinates a man (and his four ultra-evil bodyguards) who is planning a military coup in Mexico that will create a government hostile to American interests.  This is followed by the rather improbable assassination of a Saudi prince.  Robie doesn’t let himself be bothered by his assignments, but he finds himself with a dilemma when he’s ordered to kill a nearly middle-aged woman in D.C., particularly when he discovers (after breaking into her apartment) that she’s the mother of two, including the infant sleeping next to her, and a U.S. government employee to boot.  The dilemma is resolved when Robie’s handler shoots mother and child from a distance and attempts to take out Robie in the process.

After this dramatic opening, the story takes a strange twist when Robie, who is now the target of the government he once served, hooks up with a fourteen-year-old girl named Julie whose parents have been murdered.  They barely survive the explosion of a bus on which they had been riding.  Who was the target:  Robie or Julie?  What, if any, is the connection between the woman Robie was sent to kill and Julie’s parents?  Many gun battles and explosions later, the answer to those questions remains unclear.  That’s what held my attention to the end of this fast-moving novel.

I wouldn’t call the plot byzantine, but it is deliciously complex.  To my amazement, every plot thread (even an incident or two I didn’t expect to be important to the overall plot) comes together in the final chapters. The story covers a lot of ground and introduces a gaggle of supporting characters, ranging from Gulf One army buddies to traitorous FBI agents, from the retired assassin who is Robie’s mentor to the White House political analyst who becomes his romantic interest.  Robie can’t trust anyone, including the FBI agent with whom he is partnered (another potential romantic interest for the studly Robie).  None of the characters are given great depth but they seem real, and that’s enough in a story that is driven by plot rather than character.

David Baldacci’s prose style is punchy and efficient.  Short sentences and single-sentence paragraphs during action sequences contribute to The Innocent’s blistering pace.  There are times, particularly in the final chapters, when Baldacci succumbs to melodrama.  Since the story continues to be engaging, that is a forgivable sin.

This is a dual climax thriller.  The novel seems to be moving toward a particular scene, but when that scene occurs, there are still many pages left.  That scene borders on the preposterous and the unmasking of a key bad guy -- clearly intended as a shocker -- is disappointingly obvious.  The second and final climax is unsurprising but satisfying.

With all the action, suspense, and mystery that Baldacci provides, The Innocent will probably appeal to a Hollywood producer, particularly since brash, snarly fourteen-year-old girls always make appealing movie characters.  Thriller fans don’t need to wait for Hollywood; The Innocent ran like a movie in my imagination as I was reading it.


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