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Split Second by David Baldacci


Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


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Slow Motion

Some vague recollection of good suspense novels by David Baldacci attracts me to his latest offerings. After fifty or so pages, I remember why I get frustrated by his writing: it’s just not very good. The latest book, Split Second, tells the story of a Secret Service agent, Sean King, who gets distracted and the candidate he’s meant to protect is shot to death. Years later, another agent, Michelle Maxwell, loses the person she’s meant to protect. Predictably, Sean and Michelle band together against all odds to solve the mysteries. Hundreds of pages later, we learn what distracted Sean. Reading Split Second is like being caught in a slow motion universe: the pace is just too slow, and it takes too long to get from point A to point B. Having finally reached point B, a reader could care less.  Here’s a excerpt, all of Chapter 12, (pp. 54-57):

Michelle Maxwell's arms and legs moved with maximum efficiency, at least as she judged herself by the far lower standards of these post-Olympic days. Her scull cut through the waters of the Potomac as the sun rose and the already heavy air held the promise of a less chilly day. It was here at Georgetown that she'd begun her rowing career. Her muscular thighs and shoulders were burning with the effort she was expending. She'd passed every other scull, kayak, canoe and comparable vessel on the water, including one that had a five-horsepower engine.

She pulled her scull up to one of the boathouses that sat on the banks in Georgetown, bent over and took deep, long breaths, the endorphins coursing through her blood providing a pleasant high. A half hour later she was in her Land Cruiser heading back to the hotel she'd moved to near Tysons Comer, Virginia. It was still early and traffic was light—relatively light, that is, for a region that routinely saw clogged highways as early as 5:00 A.M. She showered and put on a T-shirt and boxers. With no uncomfortable shoes or stockings, and no holster chafing her, it felt great. She stretched, rubbed her tired limbs down and then ordered room service and threw on a robe before her breakfast was delivered. While having pancakes, orange juice and coffee, she channel-surfed the TV, looking for more news on the Bruno disappearance. Ironic that she was the lead agent in the field that day and was now getting her news on the investigation from CNN. She stopped surfing when she saw a man on TV who looked familiar. He was in Wrightsburg, Virginia, surrounded by news crews and obviously not enjoying it.

It took her a few moments to place him, and then she got it. The man was Sean King. She'd joined the Service a year or so before the Ritter assassination. Michelle had never known what became of Sean King, and had no reason to want to know. But now, as she listened to the details of Howard Jennings's murder, she began to want to know more. Part of it was purely physical. King was a very good-looking man: tall and well built with close-cropped black hair now heavily graying at the temples. He must be in his mid-forties now, she calculated. He had the sort of face that looked better with lines; it gave him an attraction that he probably never had in his twenties or thirties, when he was probably too pretty-boy-looking. Yet it wasn't his handsome features that intrigued her the most. As she listened to the sketchy details leading to Jennings's death, there was something about the murder, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.

She opened the copy of the Washington Post that had been delivered to her room and, Seanning the pages, found a short but informative article about the slaying. The account also contained facts about King's past, the Ritter fiasco and its aftermath. As she read the account and then looked at the man on the screen, she felt a sudden, visceral connection to him. They'd both made mistakes on the job, and it had cost them greatly. It appeared King had rebuilt his life pretty dramatically. Michelle wondered if she'd be anywhere near as triumphant in reconstructing her world.

She had a sudden inspiration and phoned a confidant of hers at the Service. The young man wasn't an agent. He was in administrative support. Every field agent needed to cultivate strong ties to die admin staff, for those were the folks who really knew how to cut through the red tape that plagued most government agencies. He was a huge admirer of Michelle's and would have somersaulted down the hall if she had condescended to have coffee with him. Well, she did so condescend. The price was, he had to bring her copies of certain records and other materials. He waffled at first—he didn't want to get in trouble, he said—but she soon persuaded him otherwise. She also got him to agree to slow-walk her admin leave papers such that she would have access to the Secret Service database using her name and password for at least another week or so.

They met at a small cafe downtown where she got the records from him. She gave the young man a hug that she let linger just long enough for her to be quite certain that he would continue to do her bidding. When she joined the Service, she had not handed in her membership in the female ranks. At one level it was just another tool. In fact, used judiciously, it was far more powerful even than her .357.

As she was getting back into her truck, a voice called out. She turned to see an agent she had leapfrogged over in climbing the career ladder. The look on his face was clear. He was here to gloat.

"Who would have thought?" he began innocently. "Your star was shooting straight up. I still can't understand how you let it happen, Mick, I mean, leaving the guy alone in a room you hadn't really swept. What the hell were you thinking?"

"l guess I wasn't thinking, Steve."

He slapped her on the arm, a little harder than he needed to. “Hey, don’t worry, they're not going to let their superstar woman fall. You’ll get reassigned, maybe guarding Lady Bird down in Texas. Or maybe the Fords. That way you get six months in Palm Springs and six in Vail and a sweet per diem. Of course, if it were one of us poor slobs, they'd cut our heads off and forget about us. But who said life was fair?"

"You might be surprised. I might not be with the Service when this is all over."

He smiled broadly. ""Well, maybe life is fair after all. Hey, you take care.” He turned to leave.

"Oh, Steve?" He turned back. "I trust you got the memo that the/re doing a computer sweep on everybody's laptop next week. You might want to get that porno stuff off-you know, from that site you keep checking from the office? That might blow your clearances. And who knows, maybe even your wife might find out. And while we're on the subject, are big boobs and a tight ass really worth the risk? I mean isn't that, like, so sixteen-year-old?"

Steve's smile disappeared; he extended his middle finger to her and stalked off.

Michelle couldn't stop smiling all the wav back to the hotel.

If you can take 416 pages of writing like this excerpt, then Split Second is the book for you. If like me, you become frustrated easily when writing lags, take a pass. Sheer willpower brought me to the end of the book.

Steve Hopkins, December 22, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the January 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Second.htm


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