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I enjoy a crime thriller as much as the next person, particularly as a lightweight way to pass the time on my arduous commute to and from work every day. For such a big name as David Baldacci, armed with a large number of international best sellers under his belt, I realised I'd never read any of his books and when I stumbled across True Blue, thankfully a standalone novel and not one as part of a series as is oft a mistake I make, I decided to rectify that immediately.
Mason "Mace" Perry, gritty and dedicated to her job on the force had her life taken away 2 years ago when she was kidnapped and framed for a crime by an unknown instigator. Now, finally free, she is determined, however improbably, to get back on the force the only way she knows has ever worked before - to solve a crime.
When a female partner at a law firm is found murdered, Mace is able to tag along to the crime scene with her sister Beth, the D.C. chief of police, strictly as a "passive observer". Here she meets another lawyer, Roy Kingman, and the two make an unexpected alliance and attempt to solve the murder, expressly against her sister's wishes. But, as the two delve deeper, the case becomes more and more complicated...and a whole lot more dangerous. Can they solve the case, and will they live to tell about it?
As my first taste of David Baldacci, though I was well aware of his stellar reputation, I was mighty impressed. His writing style is extremely smooth and free flowing and as a result he was able to keep up a frenetically fast-paced story, whilst truly adding depth to his characters to create true substance to the novel.
Mace Perry is the focal character and Baldacci took great pains to make her a strong and independent character, albeit slightly jaded and reckless, yet still with a brilliantly dry sense of humour, whilst maintaining an air of vulnerability about her which made her exceptionally likeable. Real depth was brought to her character by cleverly weaving in elements of her past throughout the story, as well as creating substantial relationship dynamics between herself and her sister as well as herself and Roy.
Whilst having a slightly lesser role, Baldacci continued this trend of having strong leading female characters through Mace's sister Beth. Again, there was slow but thorough characterisation of Beth as we discover the strength of her character through the struggles she faces both personally and professionally. Her obvious devotion to Mace, and the strong bond between them, is both touching and really adds a whole new dimension to both characters. Also, just like Mace she is a no-nonsense type of gal and again you just cannot help but like her.
But rather than relying on a solely female dominant character set, Baldacci also made Roy Kingman an equally strong character, and even though his character is not explored as much in depth as both Mace or Beth, it is the banter between himself and Mace, as well as his willingness to take risks to help Mace out, despite the obvious romantic motivation, that also makes him a very likable character.
With three main characters that you become instantly attached to and with a very real threat of danger, this adds an extra level of tension as you genuinely care of they live or die, which is essential in crime thrillers in my opinion, as if you cannot really connect with the main protagonists there's not so much of a thrill when perilous endangerment occurs.
As well as creating very likable protagonists, Baldacci also creates an equally unlikable antagonist through the utterly deplorable and hateful character of the U.S. Attorney Mona Danfoth. Willing to trample on anyone that gets in her way, Mona is a hard-nosed and ambitious woman, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She openly telegraphs her intentions to never let Mace get back on the force through whatever means possible which adds yet another roadblock to Mace's already impossible plans for redemption, and as the reader you deliciously feel your blood boil whenever she's around. To be able to invoke such an emotional response in the reader shows what a good writer Baldacci is.
As for the story itself, I really liked the way it was told, through a third person narrative constantly switching from the view points of not just the good guys, but the bad guys as well. This enabled us as the reader to be privy to more information than our protagonists so were quite often more aware of their imminent danger than they were themselves which allowed for an air of tension to remain throughout the story. It just remained to be seen if they could uncover the truth quickly enough to stay alive...
Not only that, but some of the situations Mace and Roy constantly seemed to find themselves in were pretty intense and highly threatening and it was enjoyable to see how, if they could, through use of quick thinking and skill extricate themselves safely from the situation. This constant danger was particularly nerve jangling and a constant feeling of tension that really kept the novel as a proper thrill ride.
Baldacci also addresses some very real social issues in this story with a secondary plot alongside the main homicide under the guise of research into some of the worse off areas of D.C. by an academic Abraham "Abe" Altman. His is maybe the only character that seemed a little convenient, contrived might be a bit harsh, with seemingly endless resources that could be of use at the most opportune of moments, but, despite a smidgeon of implausibility, it really doesn't detract from the story at all.
This little blip aside, this book has a complete air of plausibility about it, and no plot holes that I could find which suggested a thoroughly researched and thought out story - probably aided by the fact that Baldacci was a practicing lawyer for 9 years. The insight into police procedure and the law is very interesting, and the crimes themselves were very grizzly and hard hitting. I felt that the plot itself wasn't too obvious, despite letting the reader in on the inside a little, and with a few clever twists to keep us guessing at no point did the story ever become stale or convoluted.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable and fast paced crime thriller, which was genuinely thrilling due to the likability and depth of the characters and the very real sense of danger that Baldacci was able to evoke into the story. The story may not have been the most complex, which probably worked in its favour to avoid the confusion that some stories fall into, but was thoroughly entertaining adrenaline rush from start to finish. I would say it was above being just a source of mindless entertainment but without being too heavy going - perfect to distract yourself from the real world for a fair few hours.
I will definitely be looking out for more of Mr Baldacci's work in the future if this story is anything to go by. Recommended!