In almost every David Baldacci book review I write I comment on how much I love his Amos Decker (Memory Man) series, as well as the Will Robie and John Puller series. And I always mention I’m not a fan of his earlier Camel Club series. I’d say that I won’t do that this time around but I already have, plus it’s a little relevant.
Baldacci’s latest book is prefaced by a letter to readers, introducing his first female lead – FBI Agent Atlee Pine. Obviously he’s written other female characters but Atlee is the standalone lead and he comments that she’s one of the most unique characters he’s created. (This from the man who gave us Amos Decker and his hyperthymesia!) Obviously my expectations were high. I’ve read some AMAZING female leads – Candice Fox delivers many, and just recently I revisited Michael Connelly’s Renee Ballard. And on the character front Baldacci certainly offers up a wonderful new protagonist in Atlee (or Pine, as Baldacci calls her).Long Road to Mercy
by David Baldacci
Series: Atlee Pine #1
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
on October 30th 2018
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1509874348, 9781509874347
Atlee Pine has unstoppable tenacity, always a fighter who is unwilling to cede any ground. She has endured real nightmares and she has the emotional and physical scars to show for it. And she got that long before she became an adult.
She is a FBI Special Agent assigned to the wilds of the western US. She has to cover, often solo, vast tracts of area: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona. Small towns, impossibly long distances in-between, isolation like most on the East Coast have never experienced, and an environment where anything can and does happen.
Working with the locals who respect, and also sometimes fear her, and have never really been allowed to know her, Atlee Pine turns her vast investigative skills and unmatched drive to find out the truth. Along the way she will revisit painful memories of her own, come to grips with what she is and what she might one day aspire to be. But in the end, she will have to confront not only a new monster, but also the old one of her nightmares.
I might as well jump straight into the negative here. (And, let’s face it, you know I always find something to moan about, even if it’s practically a 5-star novel… though I’ve only given 2-3 of those in my entire existence!) For me this book was a bit more Camel Club than it was psychopathic serial killer type thriller (which is more in my bailiwick!).
The book opens with Atlee visiting the man who she believes kidnapped and killed her twin sister 29 years earlier. Daniel James Tor is a brutal killer, though scary smart to boot. Atlee’s pretty sure she now remembers seeing him in their bedroom when she was just 6yrs old but worries a little that she might be wrong.
We only get glimpses of the old case however, as Atlee’s called home where she’s works at an RA (a resident agency: single-person FBI office) aided only by long-term secretary Carol Blum. Atlee’s been at Shattered Rock (as close as you can get to the Grand Canyon without being in the park) a year or so and has built a place and reputation for herself in the community but she holds herself back.
And in the wide-open spaces, she was often the only federal law enforcement for hundreds of miles. She liked that, too. Some would call her aloof, a control freak, or antisocial, but she wasn’t. She actually got along well with people. Indeed you couldn’t be an effective FBI agent without having strong people skills. But she did like her privacy. p 5
She’s called out on a case of a dead mule*. Yes, you read that right… Apparently, mule rides are a thing in the Grand Canyon (booked out a long time in advance we learn) and she’s called out as one of the mules has been killed (kinda viciously) and its rider is missing. As both were part of a group tour, their departure in the middle of the night is suspicious.
Atlee’s investigation into the murdered mule (The Mystery of the Murdered Mule!) sets off some alarm bells however and she notes that everyone from the national security agency to her boss’s boss’s boss are suddenly interested in the death of Sallie Belle (the aforementioned mule).
Of course it’s the lack of motivation for its murder and disappearance of its rider – who seems to have a murky international relations job – that is really of interest and before Atlee knows it doors are being shut in her face and she’s being warned off.
And this I guess is where the novel deviated from what I thought I’d be reading, as we dip into the murky world of spies and espionage (kinda), of conspiracies and secret government agencies. and suddenly Atlee’s on the run with Carol, unsure if the bad guys are on the government payroll!
I’ve previously mentioned that I was once a fan of espionage type thrillers and an avid reader of Robert Ludlum, Len Deighton and David Morrell. But not for a few decades and I’m not sure what changed or why I lost interest. Speaking of which (of interest, that is) I note we’ve reverted back to our foreign interests involving China and Russia again (which was the case when I was reading such books) – whereas the focus was on the Middle East throughout most of the 2000s…
Also of interest is Baldacci’s commentary on the political situation in the US and discussion around the lack of trust that Americans currently have in their own government agencies who no longer seem to be above the law. Atlee and Carol also stumble across an organisation (the Society for Good / SFG) – a think tank of sorts which also attempts to uncover corruption and right wrongs – and I suspect we might hear from them again.
So, there’s more political manoeuvring and game playing than I guess I was expecting but I really liked Atlee. As an aside, I note I’m calling her Atlee whereas Baldacci called her Pine from the get-go. I pondered the fact I noticed this… I read other books where the main female character’s referred to by her surname, but is it just that others call them that (rather than the author) I wonder?
She’s a tad extraordinary, almost an Olympic level athlete and well versed in a number of fighting methods but I like that she’s also a big solid girl and not too cliched / extreme in either her prickliness or her good-naturedness.
I also liked the burgeoning relationship between her and Carol and am keen to see how both characters grow and their partnership develops.
So, though the novel perhaps dipped into themes of less interest to me (I’m sure they’ll be more appealing to others more interested in Russia, South Korea and America!) I’m looking forward to meeting Atlee… ahem, Pine again.
Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available. (RRP $29.99)
* I must confess I had to google what a mule was. I’m not sure we have them here in Australia, or perhaps we do and I’m not enough of a country gal to know. Anyhoo… it’s apparently the offspring of a male donkey and female horse. Why they’re not called a ‘honkey’ or a ‘dorse’ we’ll never know.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.