Thursday, October 02, 2008

"Stone Cold", by David Baldacci (Pan Macmillan)

Spies, action and Cold War conspiracy = an exhilarating read

The genre of political thrillers is slowly becoming rather crowded with some truly superb writers. David Baldacci is without doubt among the most skilled writers in this genre, and with Stone Cold he's scored yet another home run.

Reuniting us with Oliver Stone/John Carr after the events of The Collectors, Stone Cold delves a little deeper into Stone's background, giving us more detail of what he got up to when employed by the CIA. This back-story is all linked in with events that are taking place in the present day: members of his former team are getting taken out one by one. Convinced the deaths are connected, Stone decides to investigate, putting his nose in places it doesn't belong.

The rest of the Camel Club (the aging, motley assortment of conspiracy theorists) are all present, of course, as are a whole host of other interesting and three-dimensional characters. Milton, the genius with a photographic-memory is still my favourite, though every character has their part to play in the story. A lot of time is also written from the perspective of Harry Finn, the main "enemy" of the novel, and Baldacci has created an extremely compelling character: by day a family man who works for Homeland Security, identifying holes that can be exploited by terrorists and helping officials seal them up. By night (and sometimes during the day, too) he has some bloody scores to settle. To be honest, though, it's his successes at his official job that are the most chilling - that official buildings and installations might really be that insecure...

Annabelle Conroy, the beautiful con-artist is another main player in this novel, having stolen $40 million from casino king and certifiable psychopath Jerry Bagger. The two story lines run parallel to each other, with the Camel Club trying to keep Annabelle out of Bagger's hands.

The book has a number of running themes throughout, including loyalty, trust, vengeance and justice. The novel's two plots are about histories catching up with the present; in this case Annabelle's and Stone's. The plotting is extremely tight, and you'll find yourself flying through it (even at 500+ pages, this was a surprisingly quick read). All the characters are fully developed, the plot is superb and Baldacci's writing just keeps getting better and better.

Filled with contemporary fears and themes, cloak-and-dagger politics, twists and suspense, all tied together through superlative writing, Stone Cold is a real page-turner, delivering the action, thrills and quality that we've come to expect from Baldacci. It will have you on the edge of your seat, and after finishing the last page, wanting much more. Thankfully, Divine Justice, the follow up, will be released later this year, so there's not too long to wait before we're reunited with the Camel Club.

Baldacci is still one of the best. If you don't already read his work, it's about time you go out and discover what you've been missing all this time.

For Fans Of: Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Frederick Forsythe, Kyle Mills, Andrew Britton, Robert Ludlum, Alex Berenson

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