Monday, December 17, 2007

The Collectors

Although I’ve been aware of David Baldacci’s books for several years, The Collectors is my first real exposure to his writing. I first saw his name on a book, if I remember correctly, when former President Bill Clinton was walking across the White House lawn on his way to his helicopter with one of Baldacci’s books under his arm. But for some reason, it’s taken me almost the whole length of George Bush’s presidency to get around to reading Baldacci. It’s too bad that my lucky streak finally ran out because, if The Collectors is representative of Baldacci’s work, I should have waited through the presidencies of at least a couple of Bush successors before forcing myself all the way through a 500-page Baldacci book.

The Collectors is a sequel to Baldacci’s The Camel Club in which he introduced his unlikely team of crime fighters to the world. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in this case, I did not read the first book of the series before tackling The Collectors but I am told that Baldacci toned down the silliness of his characters in this second book. If that is the case, I assume that the first book must have consistently read as a novel filled with cartoon characters because, at times, this one certainly does. We meet stereotypical computer genius Milton Farb, cowardly librarian Caleb Shaw, highly decorated Vietnam veteran Reuben Rhodes and the group’s leader, an ex-CIA Triple Six operative and conspiracy theory enthusiast who aptly calls himself Oliver Stone. Thrown into the middle of this all-boys-club is Annabelle Conroy, possessor of the ultimate in con artist skills, who joins the Camel Club for reasons of her own.

When the public assassination of the Speaker of the House (an event that does not seem to much worry the Washington D.C. of Baldacci’s creation) is followed quickly by the unexplained death of the Director of the Library of Congress’s rare books collection, Oliver Stone smells conspiracy all over the two deaths. As he and the rest of the Camel Club begin to sniff the odor of conspiracy they get some unwanted attention from the bad guys and come to realize that they really are onto something big, a plot to steal and sell the country’s closely guarded secrets regarding its methods of fighting the organized terrorism aimed at the United States.

But that is only one of the plot lines in The Collectors because only a few hundred miles away Annabelle Conroy is planning the perfect “long con” by which to avenge the murder of her mother and get her hands on millions of dollars belonging to the mobster casino owner who killed her. Using a rather contrived set of circumstances, Baldacci does manage to get Annabelle to D.C. just in time for him to combine the two plotlines into one story. Sadly for Baldacci and his readers, the book becomes considerably less interesting once the con artist plotline is shut down and the even more fantastical spy plot takes center stage on its own.

The Collectors suffers from several major weaknesses: characters who never come to feel even remotely like real people, stilted dialogue that makes it even more difficult to ignore the unlikely characters, and padded plotlines that should have been suspenseful but were not. But even worse, the book only brings one of its two plotlines to a resolution, and does so much too easily and quickly based on the previous 500 pages of build up to Baldacci’s finale. Readers who care enough about Annabelle Conroy, easily the best character in the book, will have to read book three in the Camel Club series to find out whether or not she made the right decision by remaining in the U.S. rather than running when she first had the chance. After 511 pages that just doesn’t seem fair, but I don’t plan to read the next 500 Baldacci pages to find out what happens next.

Rated at: 2.0

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