Thursday, January 1, 2009

David Baldacci: Absolute Power

Guest Review by Kit Bradley
December 24, 2008

After reading Nate’s enthusiastic reviews of several Baldacci books, I decided to read one, and with Nate’s advice I started with Baldacci’s first novel, Absolute Power.

Lord Acton, a British historian, said “Power tends to currupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” As I read the book, I wondered if I would see “absolute power” in practice. Would that mean that the people weilding the power would get absolutely what they intend? And at what cost of corruption?

As the story begins, Luther Whitney witnesses a killing and a cover-up by the President of the US and his most trusted staff. The tension that carries the rest of the story develops between Luther and a few associates on one side against the White House on the other side. Does the White House have “absolute power” to control the outcome?

It doesn’t help that Luther is a convicted burgular and was practicing his trade at the time of the incident. Will anyone believe him? Luther’s daughter, Kate Whitney, is very put off by his profession and doesn’t like him much. Her one time boyfriend, Jack Graham, is more inclined to help Luther. Unfortunately, anyone who gets involved in this matter is very likely to fall to the “absolute power” that will do anything to protect the President.

Absolute Power kept me turning the pages. Some novels have an exciting climax towards the end that gets my adrenalin going. This book had three or four such exciting episodes. And it was never clear whether the “good guys” or the “bad guys” would win. Is the “absolute power” absolute? It might well be.

Which brings me to another observation. The plot of this story many times could easily have turned either direction, leading to the success of one side over the other. At least four times the plot turned on a matter of tight timing that felt contrived to me. Like when the bad guy was about to pull the trigger just as someone burst into the room and saved the good guy’s life. No skill there, just luck. I prefer the situations where the good or bad guy does something very clever or athletically challenging to turn the tide in his favor.

Overall Absolute Power was fun to read, a good story with plenty of tension. At times it seemed predictable, but I admit things didn’t always turn out as I expected. I’ll need to read another Baldacci book, but so far I like Tom Clancy better. His stories also build up tension and excitement, but I think they are more complex with more unexpected turns.

1 comment:

Nate Bradley said...

I'd have to consider that comparing Baldacci to Clancy counts as high praise, even if he comes out second. The number of times that the book goes through a gripping hard-to-put down phase is classic Baldacci. And is the reason I like his books so much.

Survival by luck may also be a Baldacci hallmark, so Kit has a good point there.

I think I'll put Absolute Power high on my re-read list, just to see how much I agree with Kit's review.