David Baldacci first burst onto the literary scene with "Absolute Power", a novel about the American President and the corrupting influence of power. This was quickly followed by "Total Control", "The Winner" and "The Simple Truth", three novels that immediately shot to the bestseller lists on account of Baldacci's tight plotting and politically-themed novels.
Baldacci's latest, "Saving Faith", is set in Washington D.C., an environment he seems very comfortable in. Danny Buchanan is one of Capitol Hill's most powerful lobbyists, with the ear of powerful Senators, the ability to influence the passage of bills in the Senate, and a deep and profound understanding of how to play the Washington old-boys network - all talents that served him well when he worked for major corporations intent on influencing the legislative process for their own ends. And now, as a crusader for some of the poorest countries in the world, Danny, with his able assistant Faith Lockhart, is using the sensitive information garnered in his lobbying days to pressurize American senators to increase foreign aid to less-developed countries.
Now, while Danny's efforts are commendable, the fact remains that his strategy is essentially a criminal one - a fact that Robert Thornhill takes great pleasure in pointing out to him. Thornhill is the Deputy Director of the CIA, a Cold-War dinosaur who believes in covert action and violent death, and discourages cooperation with other law-enforcement agencies. In Buchanan, he sees an unwitting ally - after all, goes his reasoning, if he could gain access to Buchanan's secret files on American most powerful politicians, he would have the leverage he needed to return the CIA to its former glory.
With threats and intimidation, Thornhill forces Buchanan to work for him, to tape incriminating conversations and hand them over to him. But Buchanan's assistant, Faith, decides to go to the FBI for assistance; in doing so, she comes to Thornhill's attention, who perceives her as a threat and decides to have her eliminated. Luckily, Faith survives the assassination attempt due to the timely assistance of Lee Adams, a private investigator, and the two flee the city, with both the FBI and Thornhill's hired guns in hot pursuit
The rest of the story is pure Baldacci - a far-reaching conspiracy, some well-choreographed violence, and a mental chess game between Buchanan and Thornhill as they try to outmaneuver each other. However, although the plot is well thought-out and the story takes interesting twists, Baldacci's writing style pales in comparison to some of his contemporaries - I frequently found myself tuning out as the Thornhill-Buchanan battle played itself out in front of me. The characters are tepid and quickly get tiresome, and the villain seems to have been transplanted in from a James Bond movie. And worst of all, Baldacci's story lacks surprises - the formula in "Saving Faith" is one he's used before, and it holds little that is novel or compelling to people who have read his previous novels.
Looks like "Absolute Power" is going to remain my favourite Baldacci novel for a little while longer...This article was first published on 17 Aug 2000.