09 February 2007

Book Review: Total Control by David Baldacci

Total Control It starts with a bang (that of an airliner hitting the earth) and rushes onwards for five hundred pages without slowing down. I had the best of intentions starting this book - take a bit of time reading it so I could clear the backlog of half-read novels and find the time to post something other than a continual flood of reviews. I really should have remembered that a good Baldacci is very hard to put down.

The plane which crashed was carrying Federal Reserve Board chair Arthur Lieberman. Ticketed on it - but actually in LA - was technology company executive Jason Archer, up to something which may or may not have been corporate espionage. Now his apparent widow, Sidney, is surrounded by questions - from his company, Triton, worried about their takeover of a lifetime; from her law firm, representing Triton and afraid she might be involved in something; and from the FBI, wanting to know everything she knows and what the connection is - if any - between her husband and the sabotaged plane.

Sidney refuses to believe that Jason could have been involved in anything illegal, and is wary of how much to tell anyone - even the Feds. When Jason calls, she sets out on her own in search of answers, an enterprise which ends with her being framed for triple homicide. Throw in an encrypted disk, a missing password, breaking and entering, a rival company, a murdered PI, his maybe-murdered brother, the suspicion of blackmail, and some shady removalists, and FBI agent Lee Sawyer has one hell of a mess to sort out. And he doesn’t even know if he’s working one case or two.

It wasn’t overly difficult to spot the villains, as I suspected just about everyone at some point. The real puzzle was why, and how the cases were connected, and what if anything Triton’s acquisition of CyberCom had to do with it. Like all good whodunits, as the pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place, my brain kept dredging up little clues I had all but overlooked several hundred pages earlier. I was left with the feeling that I could have kept pace with Sawyer, if only I’d been more alert. (It was ever so slightly odd constantly seeing the good guy referred to as Sawyer. Every so often I’d think of Lost.)

My favourite thing about the book, apart from its unputdownable nature, was that the unravelling of the mystery didn’t depend on coincidence, as is sometimes the case, and that when the cavalry came charging to the rescue at the end, the miraculously good timing was engineered. The mystery was solved by a combination of good detective work, some small but crucial mistakes by the bad guys, and plenty of outsmarting of said villains by the good guys (it also helped that Sidney was handy with a gun). And the final chapter wrapped things up with the tidiest possible ending - under the circumstances - for her and her daughter.

Rating: B

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776