Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Reviews of David Baldacci’s novels are usually positive, almost exclusively American, and often focus on the story details that Baldacci produces in large numbers. Reviews that analyse the success or otherwise of this author’s books in terms of defined criteria are rare. When I reviewed One Minute to Midnight in November last year, I wrote:
With Baldacci I see an author who has considerable talents suitable for the writing game. He has a good memory of events, he has the ability to juggle events to make the greatest impact, he knows which events to hold back and which to let loose, he knows into which events he should slot Character A while using Character B for some alternative event. Finally, he can set a pace such that his events occur at speed or at gentle intervals.
I pointed out that Baldacci was using an event-driven formula to which his characters and their actions adhered, and I made the point that, “Baldacci is able to achieve his goals while providing his readers with an exciting yarn that convinces them that they have indeed bought a good deal for their money.”
With the publication of Walk the Wire, I find myself deeply disappointed. I understand that the title means that Dekker (and Jamison presumably) will work on behalf of the dead Irene Cramer, or perhaps more generally, on behalf of anyone subjected to injustice and will right the situation. Explain it how you will, in this book much that we read is rhetoric. A solution to the puzzle of Irene’s death may have been found, but by the time the reader reaches that point, interest in the story has vastly diminished.
This book reads as though the author expended very little thought on creating the story, structuring it in an interesting way, developing his characters and proposing an interesting setting. The book fails in all areas.
The story has been told in many forms in all types of literary genres. A feeling of author malaise – something like ‘let’s string a few stale ideas together and let me work my magic on them’ – is evident to me as a reader. The structure is repetitive. Consider the endings to chapters 6, 7 and 8 (there are similar constructions with other chapters): chapter 6 ends with Dekker thinking as he trudged on; chapter 7 with a provocative comment by Jamison; chapter 8 with an enigmatic remark by Dekker. The point is that the chapters are short, they’re pedestrian, and they consist of a great deal of meaningless chatter. They are meant to transition to the following chapter but fail to do so.
Characterisation lacks effort. Baldacci’s people are usually real, and run warm (or cold) as he requires for his story. Dekker and Jamison are a couple of wound-up dolls. Human emotions make minimal appearance; conversations are stilted. The introduction of an explanation of sorts for the lack of spark between the two major characters comes far too late to have any significant impact. Jamison plays the junior role, always telling anecdotes or simply labelling Dekker a brilliant detective. There’s little ‘show not tell’ within these covers.
I cannot recommend this book to anyone who thinks while reading. If your goal is simply to fill in time with a book, you might read Baldacci’s latest effort and enjoy it. I could not. I would feel too much disappointment.
By David Baldacci