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Last Man Standing by David Baldacci




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Last Page Turning

Weighing in at 550 pages, David Baldacci’s new novel, Last Man Standing, gives a reader the impression that there’s a lot to enjoy on those pages. By the time I turned the last page, I had survivor’s guilt myself. Why hadn’t I stopped reading sooner? Where was the editor who could have chopped away three hundred of those pages?

Protagonist Web London is a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, an elite cadre of special operations professionals. While on assignment, everyone on Web’s team was killed, except him. That action takes place in the opening pages. The remainder of the book gives Baldacci plenty of room to meander as London tries to find out who killed the team and why. Along the way, we meet a score of forgettable characters and a few interesting and memorable ones. London is more caricature than developed character. As for writing, Baldacci masters neither dialogue nor language, but his plot was riveting, just slower moving than I’d like in a thriller. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation between London and an undercover FBI agent named Cove:

“ ‘What you do for a living, I never could. I don’t know how you guys do it.’
 ‘Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you. Now you go to those tunnels and figure out how they got that stuff in and out. And maybe you’ll see something that’ll tell you who. And I’m not thinking that it’s Westbrook. There’s somebody else out there, having a nice laugh at our expense.’
 ‘You got any firmer thoughts on that?’
 ‘I’m still feeling my way. Whoever it is, they are wired in tight somewhere important, because they seem to be able to keep one step ahead of everybody.’
 ‘Wired tight to who, somebody at the Bureau?’
 ‘You said it, I didn’t.’
 ‘You got proof of that?’
  ‘My gut. You listen to yours?’
 ‘All the time. I take it you feel like the odd man out.’
 ‘What you mean everybody and their brother thinking I turned traitor and helped burn a bunch of my own? Yeah, it has occupied my thoughts of late.’”

I didn’t indicate which character was which in the above excerpt. It doesn’t really matter much; Baldaccci doesn’t necessarily change voice from one character to another. The plot is creative, and contains enough twists to keep a reader somewhat interested, despite the weak dialogue and limited use of the language. When you’re hard up to tune out and enter into a world of action, take a few hours to thump along with Baldacci’s Last Man Standing.

Steve Hopkins, December 5, 2001


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