Split Second - David Baldacci

My only other experience of David Baldacci was the rather unfunny seasonal comedy "The Christmas Train". Given how successful David Baldacci is, I figured that I probably hadn't seen him at his best and decided to give one of his mysteries a try.


"Split Second" is a tense, page-turning, puzzle-solving book that delivers a plot that is original, if a little far-fetched (but hey, I read books about vampires, werewolves and aliens - how much of a stretch can the plot of a thriller be?).


The plot revolves around two Secret Service agents who, more than a decade apart are each guarding different Presidential candidates when they make career-ending mistakes.


Of course, it turns out that the two sets of events are related in complicated and fun to unravel ways that bring the older male ex-agent together with the younger female ex-agent to save the day.


The book is at its best in creating tension before the action, especially when it's inside the head of one of the ex-agents. There's lots of misdirection and unexpected plot twists, gunfights, a couple of explosions and relatively high and mostly female body-count.It's actually pretty good at hiding the bad guys and then revealing them in a way that makes you slap your forehead for not having seen it already.


It was all very entertaining as long as it was taken at breakneck speed.


I found the two ex-agents hard to like.


The man, Sean King (how do Americans end up with Irish first names and Jewish family names?) is, of course, tall, handsome, moderately athletic. He knows how to build a house, cook a meal and choose the right wines. He also seems to have been married to his job, cheating on his wife and taking no real joy in anything prior to the sudden death of his career. Then, with an unconscious sense of entitlement that only those with generations of middle-class background have, he becomes a lawyer, builds a fabulous house, makes a lot of money, buys a lot of toys and doesn't really get involved with anyone or anything except keeping his house excessively neat. Why should I care about this guy?


The woman, Michelle (call me Mick) Maxwell, is, of course, small, blonde and beautiful. She's also an over-achieving ex-Olympian (rowing), from generations of police officers (senior police officers of course) with a good degree, a natural ability with guns and a martial arts black belt. She's on the fast track in the Secret Service but seems to have no idea why she wants to be there. She's too glossy and too shallow for my tastes but she has skills that allow the plot to move along quite nicely.


The two of them blunder through the book, trying to fix the mess they're in and getting a lot of other people killed in the process.


But, if I let go of my distaste for all-American heroes with an inbuilt sense of entitlement and an unexamined patriotism, I have to admit that this book kept me entertained all the way through.


Scott Brick did a good job of the narration, keeping the pace moving and making the dialogue live. He wasn't helped in this by the curious production standards Hatchette Audio, who played background music at apparently random moments and seemed to toss a coin on how to deal with transitions, sometimes leaving a pause so long that I checked my player was working and sometimes moving from one scene to another so fast that I became confused about who was talking or where I was. The cover art is so bland, a brown-paper wrapper would have been more interesting. These guys seem to be asleep at the wheel.