A fifty year old man jumps into the ice cold water of Chesapeake Bay, only to reappear in a withered cottage, acting as a mute, handicapped worker. Minutes later, he is being investigated by Federal Agents in connection with a murder. Quite a staid beginning to my first book by David Baldacci as compared to some of the other mystery books I have read so far!
But, Thank God, I persisted as the story did get interesting later.
David is a famous American Novelist, specialist in stories related to FBI, CIA and anything & everything related to the absolute control of government over innocent, trusting citizens.
I wanted to read his books for a long time, and was quite thrilled at spotting Divine Justice. Though, the beginning appeared to be laid back, it set the tone of a promising murder mystery. It was clear from the very beginning that the novel is going to be a suspense thriller, though, it was not till the very end of first chapter that I got to know the name of protagonist and the fact that the present book is one of the Camel Club Series.
Here, as all the Camel Club Fans already know, the hero is Oliver Stone, and his alter ego John Carr is long dead. But, recently two eminent persons of the country, one a Federal Chief, the other a statesman have been killed by presumably our Hero!
So, who exactly is Oliver Stone? Why has he killed Simpson and Carter Gray? And, what exactly is the Camel Club?
As I continued reading Divine Justice, I struggled to get answers to these questions. The reason being that Divine Justice is a series novel, just like Jason Bourne series, and as I have read no previous novels, I found myself at sea.
But, the best thing about a mystery is that the lesser you know about it, the more interesting it becomes. And, this came true for the present novel as well. I have never ever read a novel by David Baldacci, and I was not at all acquainted with his writing style. And, strangely, it became a blessing in disguise, as I could enjoy every page of Divine Justice with utmost curiosity.
Though, as I continued, I could hardly stop myself from comparing it with Bourne Sanction and Cross Country. All the three novels boast of an honest, patriotic protagonist, who finds himself at the wrong end of the law, is being chased by his own compatriots and is juggling with multiple personalities, trying to restore justice. If Patterson created an affable Alex Cross, Lustbader painted a thoughtful Jason Bourne along with a formidable villain Arkadin. So, I was quite excited to know what David Baldacci can come up with.
Out of the previous two books, I had loved Bourne Sanction for its blurring lines of hero and anti-hero concept. The flash back and fighting scenes were fantastic, and to tell you the truth, I expected Divine Justice to be similar, and was half expecting the story to be repetitive.
But, David Baldacci actually managed to surprise me. His beginning was fine though a bit shaky, the narrative addictive and the climax, if not very ingenuous, at least managed to satisfy me. I loved the way, he took care of all the loose ends, and I was so engrossed in the present story, I did not really regret not having read his previous novels.
The story began as a fight of a wronged man Oliver Stone, who is hell bent on avenging his friend Milton Farb’s murder by the high ranking officials of CIA. He does manage to do so in the first few pages. And, by the time, the novel actually began; he was already an absconding murderer, who is to be nabbed by an equally talented Joe Knox.
Had David only concentrated on the CIA part, the novel would have been only half as good. But, the writer very thoughtfully created a parallel subplot in a small yet prosperous Coal mining town of Divine and thus managed to produce a complex mysterious story.
Oliver takes refuge in Divine to evade lawmen, but ends up coming in close contact with local policeman Tyree, who is grappling with strange events and murders being committed in this obscure town. As Stone tries to distance himself from the bizarre incidents, he unwittingly forms a bond with Riker and Coombs family, and ends up being in the center of all the controversy.
As a running murderer tried to solve the mysterious accidents of Divine, Baldacci created an intriguing story, complete with all the paraphernalia of a suspense thriller. A cruel villain, unexplained suicides and murders, drugged miners and suspicious Danny Riker ensured that I kept running with the writer, waiting for him to explain the events. And to give author due credit, he did quite a good job at maintaining the suspense. Though, I could figure out the possible reason behind strange events, I remained clueless about the main villain. The continuing mystery ensured that I struggled to close the book for even a minute and had absolute fun for three consecutive days.
Needless to say, I loved the story. Though, writing style was at the most just readable. It was conversational English, riddled with slang words and almost no importance being given to syntax and grammar. But, the genre came to the rescue of the writer, as in a murder mystery, actually, the twists override the finer nuances of language and at the end of the day, I enjoyed my read. The impersonal third person narration, interspersed with terse dialogues worked just fine, and so I am not complaining.
And, to be frank, David Baldacci is way ahead of Patterson, Lustbader and even Dan Brown as a writer. His puns at literary figures, including Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was quite commendable. The end even justified the pun on the title, irony of Justice being sacrificed at the altar of a city named Divine.
Even, his characters had interest in books, and were actually shown as reading, a point, which I have never seen in a mystery. As Joe Knox itched to return to his half-finished novel, I could fully empathize with the reader in him. To add icing to the cake was Caleb, a learned Librarian, who could quote from famous authors at the drop of a hat. Full points to David for his attempts to blend healthy reading with fast paced narrative.
The character description was equally unusual. I have never before read a man being described as Beer Keg framed or chicken legged! Similarly, a bit too much emphasis was given to the brand of clothes, shoes and cap being worn by a person, and even before I knew his name, I was made familiar with his dressing sense. Queer yet impressive work by David Baldacci.
Though, I really wish, David had explored the past life of the main villain a bit more extensively. I can never forget Arkadin of Bourne Sanction, because of his horrendous background. But, here, no such connection is established between the cruelty and possible reason for it. So, the villain remains a caricature (I have to continue calling him villain, as if I name him, the entire story would fall apart, and I want you to enjoy the story without a hint of what to expect ;))
Also, towards the farther end of the story, I think David began to use slang a bit too injudiciously. Just imagine a Policeman Baton being called Shiv or a terrorist being called towelhead! The words should indeed be molded by a writer and made his own, but a connection should be apparent between the two. And, sadly Baldacci is no Mark Twain, so his semantics hardly impressed me.
But, at the end of the day, plus points override negatives. Terse story, fast paced narrative, creative fiction won the battle for David Baldacci. Most of the hitches can be easily overlooked and the book stands tall in the land of thrilling action.
An impressive first book ensures that I am more than ready to read more by David Baldacci.
Title : Divine Justice
Written by : David Baldacci
Published by : Pan Mac Millan
Edition : Paperback 2008
No. of Pages : 534