Executive Times

 

 

 

 

 

2005 Book Reviews

 

Hour Game by David Baldacci

 

Rating: (Mildly Recommended)

 

 

 

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There are about three hundred good pages to read in David Baldacci’s new book, Hour Game. Out of 450 pages, that’s not so bad. Baldacci reprises characters Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, so fans will enjoy the familiarity of these characters. The pacing of the plot starts briskly, but stalls in the middle of the book, and it takes some extra reading energy to get over the lethargy of some of the copycat crimes committed. Fewer murders and fewer characters might have improved Hour Game.

 

Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 16, pp. 66-71:

 

Remmy Battle led King and Michelle inside and up the main staircase to the third floor. The house seemed to have been added onto over time, observed Michelle, with new wings extending out from the older central block.

Remmy apparently read her thoughts because she said, “This house has been a work in progress for decades. Many of our friends have sev­eral beautiful estates around the world, but this is the only one Bobby and I ever wanted. It’s something of a mishmash at times, and some hallways just stop at a wall, but I” —she corrected herself instantly— “we love it.”

They arrived at a door that Remmy opened and ushered them through.

It was a large and nicely furnished room, painted in comfortable colors, with a row of windows. One of those windows looked new.

Remmy pointed to it. “That’s where he got in. The police said he used a crowbar. They finally gave me the okay to have everything fixed.”

King stared down at a cracked picture frame that was on one of the nightstands. The glass had been pulled out. He picked it up. “What happened to this?”

Remmy scowled. “That picture was on a table over by the window. It was broken when Junior came through there. I haven’t had it re­paired yet.”

King and Michelle looked at the drawing of a young boy inside the broken frame. The drawing was ripped right down the middle.

“Who is it?” asked King.

“It’s a drawing of Bobby Jr. I’ll never forgive Junior for destroying it.”

King put the picture down. “I understand there was some sort of hidden drawer in your closet?”

Remmy nodded and motioned for them to follow. Her closet had elaborate mahogany built-ins throughout, and clothes, bags, shoes, hats and other accessories were arranged in precise order.

King looked at the meticulous display with unabashed admiration. He kept his own possessions in perfect order, a fact well known to Michelle. His expression of unmitigated delight clearly registered with her, for while Remmy wasn’t looking, Michelle tapped King on the arm, gave an orgasmic shudder and then pantomimed having an after-sex cigarette.

“Where was the hidden drawer, if you don’t mind my asking?” said King after he finished scowling at his partner.

Remmy pulled one drawer out slightly and then tapped on the front of a flat piece of wood right below it. This popped open, revealing a small space about eighteen inches across and two feet deep. “A false front,” explained Remmy. “Looks like a piece of filler wood, but pulling out the drawer above primes a lever in the false front. Then tapping on the right upper corner of the false front triggers that lever, and it opens.”

King examined the mechanism closely. “Pretty clever.”

“Always wanted a secret drawer in my closet,” said Remmy. “Ever since I was a little girl.”

“But the person who robbed you didn’t know how to open it?” said Michelle.

“Junior Deaver didn’t know how to open it,” she corrected. “Just about every drawer in here was clawed and busted up. Cost me a pretty penny to fix it. I’ll be taking that out of Junior’s hide in civil court. Be sure and tell Harry that.”

“But how did anyone other than you even know there was a secret drawer in here?” Michelle wanted to know.

“Over the years I might have let that fact slip. I didn’t think any­thing of it, because we have at least what I thought was a first-rate se­curity system.”

“And was the system on?” asked King.

“Yes, only there are no motion detectors on the third floor and the windows up here aren’t wired either. The system was put in years ago after a near tragedy. I guess the philosophy back then was that second-story men don’t venture to the third floor,” she added in disgust.

“What near tragedy?” asked King. Remmy turned to him. “My son Eddie was kidnapped.” “I never heard about that,” he said. “It happened over twenty years ago, while he was still in college.” “But everything turned out all right obviously,” said King. “Yes, thank God. We didn’t even have to pay the five-million-dollar ransom.”

“Why not?” asked Michelle.

“The FBI tracked down the kidnapper and killed him in a shoot-out. In fact, Chip Bailey, the FBI agent who rescued Eddie and killed the kidnapper, lives near here. He still works for the FBI, over in Charlottesville.”

King said, “So no one was here when the burglary happened?” Remmy sat on the edge of the large canopied bed, drumming her long, slender fingers against the carved bedpost. “Savannah was still at college. She’d graduated over the winter but decided to stay down there and have some postgraduate fun. I’m sure you could tell that my little girl truly loves her good times. Eddie and Dorothea were out of town. Mason, the household help, and Sally, the girl who handles the stables, live in the house in the far rear grounds. They wouldn’t have noticed anything anyway. My bedroom windows face a pretty isolated part of the rear grounds.”

“So you stay in the house by yourself?” asked Michelle. “Bobby and me!” she said defiantly. “Our children are raised. We’ve done more than our share of giving friends and relatives a place to stay in our time. More often than not, this big old house was full over the years. Now it’s just our home.”

“But the night of the burglary the house was empty,” said King. “I understand you were at the hospital with Bobby?”

“That’s right, at Wrightsburg General.”

“But we were told you didn’t arrive back here until around five A.M.,” said Michelle. “Those are pretty long visiting hours.”

“I slept there in a private room down the hall from him that the hoe­pital provided,” explained Remmy.

“That was pretty accommodating of them,” said Michelle.

“Our name’s on the building, sweetie,” Remmy said in a falsely po­lite tone. In a far more blunt voice she added, “Frankly, for fifteen mil­lion dollars, I thought it was the least they could do.”

“Oh,” said Michelle sheepishly.

“The police told me all the evidence leads to Junior, including his fingerprints.”

“But he was doing work here,” said King. “That could account for the print.”

“They found it on the outside of one of the panes of the busted win­dow.” She added, “I hired Junior to work in my bedroom, not outside my damn window.”

“And I understand that things were stolen from Bobby’s closet as well.”

“It was broken into.”

“And what was taken?” asked Michelle.

“Come on, you can see for yourself.”

She led them out of her room and down the hall, where she opened another door. They found themselves in a room that reeked of cigar and pipe smoke. It was an intensively masculine room, Michelle noted. A shotgun rack hung over the fireplace, although there was no weapon on it. A pair of antique swords hung on another wall. They were crossed one over the other, forming a large X. There were several oil paintings of splendid horses. A pipe rack stood against one corner with a number of well-chewed pipes hanging from it. In another cor­ner was a campaign desk and chair. The bed was small, and the night­stand next to it was stacked with magazines on fishing, hunting and science. One entire wall was devoted to photos of Bobby Battle. He was a tall, thick-chested man with dark, wavy hair and features seem­ingly cast in iron. In most of the photos he was either fishing or hunt­ing, but there was one of him jumping out of a plane and another where he was piloting a chopper.

Remmy waved her hand in front of her nose. “I’m sorry for the smell. We’ve aired it out for days, and the smell’s still there. It must be in the carpet and furniture by now. Bobby loves his pipes and cigars.”

As Michelle looked around at Robert E. Lee Battle’s lair, images of the man seemed to flow to her apart from the photos: a bear of a man who lived life hard and took no prisoners. That such a man was lying now in a coma with bleak prospects of ever coming back made her very depressed, even though she’d never met him and was disgusted by his womanizing reputation.

Michelle pointed to several photos of Battle with large groups of people. “What are those of?”

“Some of Bobby’s employees. He was an engineerturne businessman. Holds over a hundred patents. Looking at this room, you might think my husband was all play and no work, but Bobby is, above all else, a hard worker. The things he invented, they all made money.”

“When did you two meet?” asked Michelle. She added quickly, “I know it’s a personal questions but he seems such a fascinating man.”

Remmy actually smiled at this. “He walked into my daddy’s cloth­ing store in Birmingham, Alabama, forty-five years ago and an­nounced that he’d seen me at several events and I was the prettiest thing he’d ever laid eyes on and he was going to marry me. And he just wanted my daddy to know, although he said he wasn’t seeking permis­sion, which was and in many ways still is the custom down there. He said the only person he had to convince of his intentions was me. Well, he did. I was only eighteen then and hadn’t seen anything of life, but I was no pushover. Yet he eventually won me.”

“Quite the whirlwind,” said King.

“He was ten years older than me. When we got married, he hadn’t made much money, but he had the brains to and the drive. He was spe­cial. And yet he wanted me.” This last part was said with surprising humility.

“Well, it’s not like you weren’t quite a catch,” said King sincerely. “I suppose I was one of the very few to stand up to him. Oh, we had our peaks and our valleys like most folks,” she added quietly.

Remmy opened a door and motioned them in. “Bobby’s closet.” The space was far smaller than his wife’s closet but was still elaborately built out.

Remmy pushed back some pants hanging on rods and pointed to the side of one of the cabinets where a panel of wood had been broken out.

“There’s a secret cupboard there, about the same size as the one in my room. One of the drawers in this large cabinet doesn’t go all the way back, you see. It’s pretty clever, because from the front it’s almost impossible to judge how deep the drawers are. And you can’t see the little keyhole on the side unless you’re looking for it. I’ve been in here a million times, and I never noticed it.”

King shot her a glance. “So you didn’t know Bobby had a secret drawer?”

Remmy looked like a woman who’d realized far too late that she’d said far too much.

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“What was stolen?”

“What does it matter?” she snapped. “I know what was stolen out of mine.”

Remmy, you mean you don’t know what Bobby kept in there?” asked King.

She didn’t answer for a long moment. When she did, her tone was far more subdued.

“No, I don’t.”

 

Baldacci wastes words on unnecessary exposition, and his dialogue gets boring in too many places. Plot lovers will enjoy Hour Game, provided you can get over the sluggish parts.

 

Steve Hopkins, March 23, 2005

 

 

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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the April 2005 issue of Executive Times

 

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