Written by David Baldacci — At the beginning of The Guilty, David Baldacci has included a note explaining that in this novel he wants to do something different with his CIA assassin Will Robie. So in the sharp shooter’s fourth outing, instead of becoming deeply embedded in a secret assignment involving the enemies of the free world, he heads home to Mississippi and finds it just as full of secrets and enemies.
Why is Robie going to Cantrell, Mississippi? That’s because he’s lost his mojo. On an operation in some nameless country he has some evil fellow in his crosshairs and just when he pulls the trigger, the man’s daughter pops up and is shot through-and-through. On his next jaunt when he’s just about to pull the trigger he just can’t get to ‘cold zero’, when his heart rate drops and he’s in complete control. He imagines a little boy at the scene, just like the girl he killed last time.
The guilt makes Robie’s unfit for service so his CIA controller – the Blue Man – suggests a trip home. Not so much for a rest, but because Robie’s father Dan is being held for slitting the throat of a rich old scumbag who allegedly spent the night with Robie’s stepmother. As he arrives in the state, Baldacci delivers some wonderful descriptions of the fields, swamps. It’s an isolated place, but who can resist Spanish moss, humidity, and gators?
Baldacci is also a fine storyteller, and whether you like Robie, with his near invincible martial art skills and his deadly accurate unhand, the plot certainly moves at a rapid clip. Soon he’s in a bar brawl with the murdered man’s son, and the local police are suspicious of him. Worse still, his father won’t see him, and it becomes clear that the Robie men are separated by a 20-year chasm. Despite the beatings he left behind when he took off out of Mississippi, Robie still wants to help his father, so he starts his own investigation. Maybe when that’s dealt with, they can enjoy a proper reunion.
Things get tougher and tougher, but Robie meets his new stepmother – a woman his own age – and discovers that he has a little brother too. He hooks up with an old high school friend who’s now dying of cancer, finds a sympathetic female cop to help, and hires a black lawyer to defend his father. The author goes to some lengths to establish a network of interesting characters giving Cantrell and Robie’s back story a living, breathing feel. Eventually he’s joined by his sniper colleague, Reel, a woman he became attached to earlier in the series.
Just about every sort of naughtiness crosses Will Robie’s path too – from the preacher’s daughters who’ve turned to prostitution, to the hitmen who attack the murdered man’s son and end up feeling Robie’s ire. There’s paedophilia, murder and madness down on the bayou but Robie just can’t figure it all out. Is it all to do with casino deals or big oil, or is it something closer to home as Southern family histories unravel in Baldacci’s couplex tale.
The Guilty is certainly readable and exciting, the setting is rich and there’s an extensive array of characters, each of which might be hiding something. The action’s gripping too, and it’s easy to see why Baldacci has sold hundreds of millions of books. However, the mystery itself never deep or grabbing enough. Perhaps this is because before any line of enquiry leads to intrigue, the author pulls a switchback and Robie and Reel are left with little idea where to turn next. You might well guess quite early on who the culprit is, but Robie doesn’t come close and it’s only in the last few chapters that the truth’s revealed in what’s admittedly a nicely worked ending.
Having heard wonderful things about David Baldacci’s other recent book, the Memory Man, I’ve got a feeling I picked the wrong Baldacci from the reading pile…
If you like the sound of an all-action crime busting tough guy, you could also try Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars