An Abominable Book about a Bomb
By Stephanie G.
In post-9/11 America the threat of terrorism is omnipresent, a storm cloud thrusting a shadow on even the brightest days. Security is tighter than ever before in airports, public events, and wherever a significant public figure is concerned. Undoubtedly, the most protected individual in the country is the President. His security detail is, in fact, one of the best in the world. With a theoretically gripping scenario in which a bomb blows up across the street from the White House, David Baldacci examines the potential repercussions of such a serious breach of that world-renowned security. As Oliver Stone, a former secret agent/sniper who once went by the name John Carr, seeks answers to the many mysteries behind this incident and the many cover-up assassinations that follow, Baldacci scrutinizes the bureaucracy and factionalism within the U.S. government. Time and time again, Stone is rendered unable to prevent more deaths simply because certain leaders are unwilling to risk their political standings by sharing information with a washed-up assassin who has a somewhat disreputable history. Along the way, alliances with foreign nations – Great Britain especially – are called into question as well, since the attack is originally believed to target the Prime Minister, who is on a visit from the U.K.
As Stone and his partner from Britain’s MI-6, Mary Chapman, inch towards discovering the perpetrators, the danger increases. More and more people fall victim to the stealthy force working against the government. However, we are not left in much suspense. After a short time we realize a pattern wherein every time Chapman and Stone appear to discover an answer, they are soon proved wrong and someone else dies. For a mystery novel, the suspense factor is most definitely lacking.
In addition, Baldacci tries to take on too many storylines at once in Corner. A plethora of suspects are scrutinized and a multitude of theories emerge, to the point where names and ideas blur together. Even the main characters require further description, which might be found in the previous works in this series. However, we wouldn’t know there are preceding volumes by looking at this book. Nowhere on the cover or in the description is the Camel Club series mentioned, but as it turns out Hell’s Corner is its fifth installment. Oliver Stone himself is underdeveloped; somehow he draws conclusions from thin air. When everyone else is baffled, he magically knows the answer. The only explanation we receive into the working of his mind happens when he asserts that, “I think of the highly unlikely, then push it to the practically impossible, and often find I arrive at the truth.” Thus, only a bare minimum of information is revealed. While such a premise is good in theory – who doesn’t love a hero who will always save the day? – Baldacci’s lack of investigation into the way Stone’s mind works makes the character unrealistic.
If one is hoping for a riveting tale of suspense involving espionage, top government secrets, and detective work, look elsewhere. (I would recommend Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn.) With every chapter in Hell’s Corner, I struggled to remain interested even though I cherish books involving all of those elements. Baldacci reveals very little of such intriguing topics. In the end, he only exposes the fact that his status as a serial writer is taking its toll. Handfuls of grammar mistakes point to a writer under too much pressure to produce anything, as opposed to something valuable. With over 27 novels translated into 45 languages in 80-plus countries around the world, Baldacci can’t be expected to write earth-shattering works every time. Here, he appears to write simply for the sake of adding to his impressive statistics, not to add to his rave reviews.