Long Shadows by David Baldacci

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

One of the less successful of David Baldacci’s characters is FBI agent Amos Decker who, faced by difficult plots, manages to solve the murders that always eventuate. Baldacci invokes the condition of hypermythesia, which grants Decker ‘superpowers’ particularly of vision. Invoking these superpowers gives Decker a step ahead of his colleagues. In my view, superpowers went out with Clark Kent and contribute little to the development of the plot and the solution of the crime.

Clearly, Baldacci saw a need for a change in his writing. Mary Lancaster commits suicide, a judge and her protector are both murdered, a new male agent and a fresh new female agent who happens to be black are called on to assist Decker. Some suspicion clouds the male agent until he has found his way deep into the book, while the black woman is always white as snow. There is a hint of romance between herself and Decker but never more than a whiff. It seems likely that Baldacci cannot handle romance as he avoids it in most of his books.

Writers of novels are driven by a whole variety of reasons that explain why they set their minds to devising plots and developing characters and so on. Some aim for glory and fame with the carefully contrived literary tale that plumbs the human condition to reveal something original about mankind and his life upon the planet. Others write a series of superficial tales exemplified by the Amos Decker tales that rely on coincidence and impractical conclusions. Famous writers such as Graham Greene and Thomas Hardy earn their fame through practical telling and subtle narration. I think of Far From the Madding Crowd with its original, and novel, description of Gabriel Oak.

Baldacci is a very different writer, basically because he writes for a different purpose. Dollar signs drive Baldacci. He knows that if he can write his books, he will sell them. There is always a market for his kind of writing. Baldacci can get a book out quickly. He can set a pace such that his events occur at speed or at gentle intervals.

His books follow an event-driven formula. Empathy for his hero/heroine may or may not be present, because it’s not important. Sorrow when an adult or a child is murdered? No, just report the event and move on. Incidents will either never be heard of again or they will come at the behest of the writer. Then when we’ve had enough excitement in the opinion of the author, the story ends.

I commented on one occasion:

Baldacci’s method is not to be criticised. It is successful if his goal is to make money or seek a temporary modicum of fame, or more broadly, if it is to give him the satisfaction he must be seeking for his labours. If the satisfaction is his, then that is his to enjoy. Writers, of much lesser quality than Baldacci, have been doing similar things for many years. Agatha Christie is a household name even now (although she has been dead for heaven knows how many years). Her stories are nothing more than events strung on an interminable string that lasts until a gentleman, as portly as the plot is slim, abruptly intervenes, brings the children together, tells them a complicated fairy tale, including the name of the kid who put salt in the sugar bowl, and sends them all off to bed for the night.

Baldacci has the ability to provide his readers with a satisfying yarn. Sometimes he is more successful than at other times. Long Shadows is one of his weaker efforts. Maybe next time his character Amos Decker will have disappeared, to be replaced by a character who is more  effective and likeable.

Long Shadows


By David Baldacci

Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 978-152906-190-1

$34.99; 448 pp

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