Written by David Baldacci — The third novel in the series begins with Amos Decker on his way to work one morning at the FBI in Washington, DC. Right outside, he witnesses a murder. Walter Dabney, a contractor with the FBI, shoots school teacher Anne Berkshire in the back of the head, killing her instantly, before turning the weapon on himself.
Decker suffers from a condition called hyperthymesia, meaning he has a photographic memory, but also greatly reduced empathy. It is the result of a previous injury that altered his brain and personality. So Decker has perfect recall of what he witnessed and is immediately co-opted onto an FBI task force, along with agents Alex Jamison and Ross Bogart, to investigate the incident. Initially it appears there’s no connection between the Walter Dabney and his victim Anne Berkshire.
Dabney ran a successful business, had very high security clearance, and was involved in numerous sensitive projects. He was a committed family man, happily married with four daughters. On the other hand, Berkshire was a support teacher who spent her spare time at a hospice. However, as Decker begins to dig he finds she lived in a multi-million dollar condo and drove an expensive car. As a teacher, how could she possibly afford it? Curiously, records of her only go back 10 years. It seems Berkshire was not who she appeared to be.
Decker soon finds Berkshire owned another property, a run down farmhouse. But she could not have lived there, all the utilities are cut off. Decker finds a USB stick there, which he expects will be stuffed with background information on this mysterious woman. As he leaves, his tyres are shot out, he’s knocked unconscious and the stick is stolen. A shadowy group is stalking Decker’s every move. Then, Agent Harper Brown of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) tries to take over the case, pushing Decker and the FBI aside.
As Decker, Harper and Jamison delve deeper it becomes obvious that greater forces are at work and the threat to US security is extremely high. Decker and Jamison must figure out what’s going on before the unthinkable happens…
It says on the cover that David Baldacci has sold over 110 million books around the world. His works have been adapted for film and television, including Absolute Power with Clint Eastwood. He’s clearly a man who knows how to write a thriller. And there’s no doubt that The Fix is an exercise in creating a page turner.
There are two ways of assessing this book. As an out-and-out, suspense of belief thriller where you don’t look very hard at its plausibility, it’s great. It might remind you of the film version of The Hunt For Red October – for some Sean Connery’s Scottish accent jars with his role as a Russian commander. For others it doesn’t. So too when it comes to The Fix. The story is engaging enough to keep you up at night.
But it is frustrating as well. It feels as though the book has been rushed out without a decent edit. There are clunky sentences, and lots of repetition. Seven uses of the word ‘might’ in five lines, for example. Characters keep ‘shooting’ looks and responses at each other, and there is some bizarre dialogue. “You actually might know some things you don’t even know you know,” says Decker at one point.
The characters spend a lot of time rehashing the same questions. Are Dabney and Berkshire connected? Well, they must be. But how? Who is Berkshire? How can she be wealthy? And so on. The generic structure is a chapter of frantic action, followed by one or two of reflection, often over food. A lot of calories are consumed in the solving of this case.
As well as hyperthymesia, Decker has synaesthesia, an ability to sense things in colour. People who are dying appear a light blue to Decker. That’s two conditions most people have never heard of. His photographic memory is very useful, however the colour aspect is used a couple of times then quietly forgotten. He spends quite a bit of time clicking through individual frames in his memory, comparing and contrasting them with what he’s just learned.
The conclusion is tense and exciting, but there are times when the action feels too clearly like it’s a plot device, put in to move the story along rather than support it. When Decker finally encounters the gang behind the occurrences everything is over quickly and all too easily. It’s a bit underwhelming after the hundreds of pages of build-up. And the actual plot – it’s solved by one of the team who just happens to have a skill specially suited to the situation. How lucky is that?
Back to the Hunt For Red October analogy – I’m sure the author’s fans will love this book and wonder what I’m complaining about. There will be others who shake their heads, like my wife laughing at Sean Connery not being a Russian submariner… Each to their own.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars