Born 1960, in Richmond, VA; married; wife's name, Michelle; children: Spencer, Collin. Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.A.; University of Virginia, J.D.
Home—Northern Virginia. Agent—Aaron Priest Literary Agency, 708 3rd Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10017.
Writer. Former trial and corporate lawyer in Washington, DC. Board member of Virginia Commonwealth University, Library of Virginia, Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Virginia Blood Services.
W. H. Smith's Thumping Good Read Award for fiction, 1997, for Absolute Power.
Absolute Power, Warner (New York, NY), 1996.
Total Control, Warner (New York, NY), 1997.
The Winner, Warner (New York, NY), 1997.
The Simple Truth, Warner (New York, NY), 1998.
Saving Faith, Warner (New York, NY), 1999.
Wish You Well, Warner (New York, NY), 2000.
Last Man Standing, Warner (New York, NY), 2001.
The Christmas Train, Warner (New York, NY), 2002.
Split Second, Warner (New York, NY), 2003.
Hour Game, Warner (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Panorama Magazine (Italy), UVA Lawyer, Welt am Sonntag (Germany), Tatler Magazine (United Kingdom), New Statesman, and USA Today Magazine. Also author of unproduced screenplays. Also author of the short story "The Mighty Johns," published in an anthology of the same title, 2002, and of the novella Office Hours.
Absolute Power was adapted as a screenplay by William Goldman, Castle Rock, 1997; rights to Total Control have been sold to Columbia/TriStar; McCourt & Stein, a television series pilot based on a novel by Baldacci was developed by the USA cable network, 2002.
Work in Progress
Second book in a series that began with Split Second.
Author of bestselling legal thrillers, David Baldacci turned a successful career in the law into an even more lucrative writing industry. With over thirty million copies of his novels in print in thirty languages, Baldacci is not only a hot literary property, but he also takes chances with his genre. After producing back-to-back "turbo-thrillers," as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly dubbed titles such as Absolute Power and The Simple Truth, Baldacci changed pace with mainstream literary efforts including Wish You Well and The Christmas Train. But suspense mixed with gripping plots is what the author does best. Returning to that format with the 2003 Split Second, Baldacci created a thriller "sustained by the pulse-pounding suspense his fans have come to expect," according to Kristine Huntley in Booklist.
Regularly hitting the bestseller lists around the world, Baldacci's work has been praised by many for its turn-the-page readability, and criticized by others for overly complex plots, simplified characterizations, and an uncanny ability to switch point of view in mid-scene. Reviewing his mainstream novel Wish You Well in Book, Don McLeese complained that "Baldacci commits so many literary crimes that he risks disbarment from the world of letters." Yet a contributor for Publishers Weekly found that same book "an utterly captivating novel" that offers readers "bone-deep emotional truth." Often compared to writer John Grisham for his use of the legal world in his thrillers, Baldacci counts among his readers former President Bill Clinton, who called Baldacci's 1999 The Simple Truth his favorite novel of the year. A self-confessed writing junkie, Baldacci told an interviewer for the Warner Book Web site, "If I'm not writing, I'm not comfortable. I can write anywhere under any circumstances. I can write in a plane or a train or a boat. In a corner, with a screaming child in my lap, I've done all those things. If you wait for the perfect place to write, you'll never write anything because there's no such place."
From the Law to Legal Thrillers
Born in Virginia in 1960, Baldacci grew up with a simple philosophy, instilled by his father, a first generation Italian-American who worked as a foreman
for a trucking firm. As Baldacci explained to Jeff Zaleski in Publishers Weekly, his father advised him that "if I work hard and respect others, life turns out okay." From his part-Cherokee mother he inherited high cheekbones and numerous stories of Appalachia and rural Virginia. A love of stories was with him from an early age, and he began writing in high school. "I love to read," Baldacci noted in his Warner Books Web site interview. "I wanted to make other people feel the magic of a good story and so I took up my pen too. I've always been a storyteller, since I was a child."
While an undergraduate at Virginia Commonwealth College and studying law at the University of Virginia, Baldacci continued writing in his spare time. Then when he became a full-time trial and corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C., Baldacci still managed to find time, late at night, to write. "It was my private passion," Baldacci commented on his author's Web site. He also noted on the Warner Books Web site that just being a lawyer taught him "a great deal about fiction writing." Models for him included John Irving, Patricia Highsmith, Elmore Leonard, William Styron, and Tom Wolfe, among others. He was also an avid reader of thrillers and began to think that he could do just as well if not better than those writers. So, after spending a number of years crafting short stories and screenplays, Baldacci turned his hand to writing a thriller.
He quickly came up with a high-concept storyline and first chapter, enough to attract the interest of agent Aaron Priest. It subsequently took Baldacci two years to write the full manuscript, working late into the night after his full day as a lawyer. Finished, the manuscript sold in one day for five million dollars. Baldacci's nine years as a lawyer had come to an end.
A String of Thrillers
Baldacci's first book, Absolute Power, presents "the mother of all presidential cover-ups," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. In this debut thriller, the career break-in artist Luther Whitney is in the middle of robbing the house of a fabulously wealthy woman when a man on the other side of a secret wall begins to make love to said woman. Whitney is amazed when he figures out the man is no less than the president of the United States—and not the woman's husband. His amazement turns to shock, though, when the love play turns violent and the woman of the house uses a letter opener to fend off the president, who then calls for his Secret Service agents. They kill the woman, and Whitney witnesses the whole thing through a one-way mirror. Leaving the house, Whitney takes proof of the murder: the letter opener the woman used. Whitney becomes the subject of a manhunt when he tries to blackmail the president and has to run for his life. When Whitney is killed, lawyer Jack Graham, former fiance of the thief's daughter, sets out to reveal the president for what he is and to expose the cover up.
Resident on bestseller charts for over a year, Absolute Power was also adapted as a feature film starring Clint Eastwood. Reviewers, meanwhile, came down on both sides of the critical divide. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that despite its high-flying opening, the book did not live up to its promise: "For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jean Hanff Korelitz found that the book's "lack of suspense may result from the fact that Jack, its apparent hero, remains at the periphery of the story until it is nearly over." Booklist's Gilbert Green noted that Baldacci's book "has plenty of commercial potential," but could use some "polishing in plot and story structure." More positive was the assessment of a reviewer for Publishers Weekly who called Absolute Power a "sizzler of a first novel," and praised Baldacci as a "first-rate storyteller who grabs readers by their lapels right away and won't let go until they've finished this enthralling yarn."
Baldacci's second novel, Total Control, opens with a plane crash that takes the life of Jason, husband of attorney Sidney Archer. Soon, however, she learns that her husband was not on board the plane after all and that she and her young daughter are now in danger for their lives, as Jason has disappeared with a load of high-tech corporate secrets in his briefcase. He has also supposedly sent himself a computer disk with encrypted information on it, and those seeking Jason are on her track too. Aided by a veteran of the FBI, Sidney tries to get to the bottom of this intrigue before her own time runs out in this suspense thriller that involves corporate wrongdoing and the Federal Reserve System.
Once again Baldacci's novel soared to the top of bestseller charts and was sold for adaptation as a miniseries for a seven-figure number. At the same time, critical response was mixed. Gene Lyons, writing in Entertainment Weekly, complained of a "lumbering prose style that reads like a software manual translated from Japanese," while a contributor for Publishers Weekly called it a "windy thriller" with "plenty of lumpy prose." On the other hand, Booklist's Donna Seaman thought Total Control "is even more suspenseful" than Baldacci's first novel, and that it "is also far more interesting in terms of the questions it raises about how much technology controls us."
Baldacci continued his string of blockbusters with the 1997 The Winner about a rigged national lottery and the plucky heroine who breaks the corruption wide open. LuAnn Tyler is a young, unwed mother when she wins one hundred million dollars in the national lottery, only she does not really "win" the money, for the lottery has been rigged by her employer, the evil and mysterious Mr. Jackson. The one condition is that LuAnn must leave the country and not return. But after a decade of lonely exile, LuAnn comes back and settles in Virginia. Jackson tracks her down, for with a newspaper investigation of the national lottery scam, he cannot afford witnesses around to tell tales. LuAnn, however, is not just a docile heroine; she turns from "hunted to huntress," as a critic for Publishers Weekly explained. This same contributor went on to note that despite "workaday" prose and a "mercilessly melodramatic" plot, the book "is flat-out fun to read. Similarly, Booklist's Gilbert Taylor called the novel "undemanding fun," and praised Baldacci's "pedal-to-the-metal plotting."
Baldacci brings back the lawyer aspect of his tales with his fourth novel, The Simple Truth, in which ex-cop John Fiske and law clerk Sara Evans set out to find out the truth behind the death of John's brother and to uncover the mystery behind a twenty-five year-old murder. Fiske's brother Michael, a clerk at the Supreme Court, was attempting to help a man in prison, Rufus Harms, who claims he is the victim of a conspiracy. Now it appears that Michael Fiske has been a victim of the same people who framed Harms and the body count rises quickly as the depths of this conspiracy are uncovered. Critically, this was one of Baldacci's best-received titles. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt it was the author's "most generously textured novel" to date, and Paula Chin, writing in People, found that Baldacci "ratchets up the suspense." Writing in Booklist, Gilbert Taylor commented that readers, "repeaters and new ones alike, will be clamoring to ride along" on this narrative train.
After four hits, Baldacci had gotten not only his rhythm, but also his formula. As he noted on the Warner Books Web site, he tends to write about the legal world "because I know a lot about it. Also, in coming up with plots I look for classical dilemmas, interesting confrontations, ordinary people close to powerful epicenters. Political situations, lawyers, Washington, all allow for those creative elements." Baldacci also explained his choice of characters. "In my novels I try to have at least one character represent the 'every person.' It's a way to allow the reader to relate to the events taking place in the novel and also to have someone to root for (or against) as the case may be. Most stories need a moral linchpin as well, and there's always one of these (seen via a character) in my stories."
From Thrillers to Mainstream and Back
Baldacci's fifth novel, Saving Faith, was yet another "high-concept premise," as a Publishers Weekly critic noted. Here there is an off-the-books CIA team fighting turf battles with the FBI, and Faith Lockhart, a lobbyist, is caught in the middle. On the run from ruthless killers from the CIA, Faith has only her wits and the help of FBI agent Brooke Reynolds to parry the strikes of assassins who do not want the secret of CIA manipulation of Congressional voting leaked. "Baldacci's prose can still break the jaws of subvocalizers," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, but, according to the same critic, "the novel moves fast . . . and its players and suspense are strong." Taylor, writing in Booklist, found the plot "more than a little improbable," but also remarked that the author makes the book work "with solid suspense, pithy dialogue, and plenty of hot but tender sex scenes."
With his sixth novel, Wish You Well, Baldacci left suspense behind for the time, writing a mainstream literary novel that found a readership with both the young and old. Employing stories learned from his mother, he focuses on the rural world of Appalachia in a tale of a young girl who loses her writer father in a traffic accident but gains a new world when
she and her younger brother are sent to stay with their great grandmother. With their mother in a coma after the accident, siblings Louisa and Oz are sent off to the family farm in southwestern Virginia. Here twelve-year-old Louisa learns hard truths about the land and comes to love the difficult new life. But this idyll is endangered when corporate interests threaten to seize her great grandmother's farm. Set in 1940, the novel won praise from Library Journal's Kathy Piehl who called it "affecting" and "richly textured." Jaye Munger also found the novel "hauntingly beautiful" in a Redbook review, while Kliatt's Judith H. Silverman thought it provided an "excellent portrait of race and class distinction of the time and place, and of a young woman growing up."
With his 2001 novel, Last Man Standing, Baldacci returned to thrillers with a story about the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team. Web London, a member of the HRT, is living with the ghosts of his former team members, all killed in an ambush which he managed to avoid. Shaken by the experience and investigating the drug dealers who staged it, he also undergoes therapy for his guilt feelings at surviving when all his friends were killed. His psychiatrist, Claire Daniels, tries to get the bottom of Web's problem, and ultimately uncovers facts that bring many of the plot's threads together. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Baldacci offered up another "exciting thriller, but one that hasn't forsaken the ambitions of Wish You Well." Moreover, according to this contributor, the author also created "characters that readers will demand to see back in a sequel." Kristine Huntley observed in Booklist that Baldacci's legion of fans "will be happy to see him back in thriller-writing mode."
That mode did not last long. In the 2002 novel The Christmas Train Baldacci veered once again into mainstream fiction. "It's the classic travel adventure tale," Baldacci explained on the Warner Books Web site. "A runaway screwball comedy on a train, separated by intense moments of personal strife, quiet introspection, romantic mayhem and puzzling mysteries." When journalist Tom Langdon sets out on a train journey across the country to visit his girlfriend in Los Angeles for Christmas, he meets a raft of strange, zany characters on board, one of whom turns out to be his one-time love, Eleanor Carter. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the book "is loaded with cool train lore . . . and plenty of romance and good cheer." Huntley, writing in Booklist, also commended the novel as a "heartwarming holiday story."
Baldacci's ninth novel, Split Second, marked another return to the suspense thriller format in which two discredited Secret Service agents investigate the kidnapping
of a presidential candidate and the assassination of another. These crimes were, in fact, what sent these agents' careers in a tailspin, for they happened on their watch. Agent Michelle Maxwell averted her eyes one second from John Bruno and he was spirited away. Almost a decade earlier Agent Sean King, protecting candidate Clyde Ritter, was not quick enough to keep the man from being killed. Retiring from the Secret Service, King has set up a law practice, but now he and Maxwell come together when they begin to see parallels in the two incidents. Soon they are in over their heads in an investigation that leads in many directions at once. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commended the author for creating "people that readers care about." However, the same contributor felt that Split Second was "Baldacci's weakest thriller in years." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews commented adversely on the book's "jerry-built conclusion that beggars credibility and offers few surprises."
In 2004 Baldacci published Hour Game, a thriller about a serial killer in Virginia who leaves a watch behind with each of his murder victims. The watches are set to the hour corresponding with that victim's position on the killer's hit list. Each killing is a copy of an infamous murder from history, and it seems as if the murderer is trying to improve on the notorious crimes of the past. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are investigating another crime in the area, a simple burglary, when they are pulled in to help find and stop the serial killer. Their investigation becomes more difficult when a copycat killer also begins to operate in the area. According to Kristine Huntley in a review for Booklist, Hour Game starts out "a bit slow, but it recovers to build to an exciting finish."
If you enjoy the works of David Baldacci
If you enjoy the works of David Baldacci, you may also want to check out the following books:
John Grisham, The Client, 1993.
Catherine Coulter, The Maze, 1997.
Steve Martini, The Attorney, 2000.
Baldacci is less concerned with what reviewers have to say about his work than what his fans do, and his readership, as measured at the cash register, continues to give him top marks. Baldacci, who is also involved in several charitable and literacy efforts, has strong advice for other would-be authors. As he told Lewis Burke Frumkes in an interview for the Writer, aspiring writers should "take a few years and learn how to write well. Learn the craft. Don't finish anything. Read everything you can and practice. Try to build a character to the point at which you can see the person and how he moves and acts. Practice writing dialogue until a reader would say it sounds like two people talking. Then start with a short story, and after you've done that for a few years, try to construct a novel that is a major work."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book, November, 2000, Don McLeese, review of WishYou Well, p. 72.
Booklist, November 1, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Absolute Power, p. 434; November 15, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Total Control, p. 548; October 15, 1997, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Winner,
p. 362; September 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Simple Truth, p. 5; October 1, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Saving Faith, p. 307; July, 2000, Brad Hooper, review of Wish You Well, p. 1972; November 1, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of Last Man Standing, p. 442; November 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of The Christmas Train, p. 450; August, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Split Second, p. 1924; September 1, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Hour Game, p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, November 22, 1996, review of Absolute Power, p. 131; February 21, 1997, Gene Lyons, review of Total Control, pp. 120-121.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1995, review of AbsolutePower, p. 1444; September 15, 1998, review of The Simple Truth, p. 1302; October 1, 2002, review of The Christmas Train, p. 1441; July 15, 2003, review of Split Second, pp. 921; August 15, 2004, review of Hour Game, p. 756.
Kliatt, January, 2002, Judith H. Silverman, review of Wish You Well, pp. 8-9.
Library Journal, January, 1997, Kathy Piehl, review of Total Control, p. 142; September 1, 2000, Kathy Piehl, review of Wish You Well, p. 248.
Los Angeles Times, David Rosenzweig, "Jury Rules against Southland Publisher,"p. C2.
M2 Best Books, May 22, 2002, "Federal Court Blocks Anthology Publication."
Maclean's, February 17, 1997, Brian D. Johnson, review of Absolute Power, p. 72.
Mother Earth News, February-March, 2002, review of Wish You Well, p. 18.
Nation, March 17, 1997, Stuart Klawans, review of Absolute Power (film), pp. 43-44.
New Republic, March 17, 1997, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Absolute Power (film), pp. 28-29.
Newsweek, February 17, 1997, David Ansen, review of Absolute Power (film), p. 67.
New York Times Book Review, February 25, 1996, Jean Hanff Korelitz, review of Absolute Power, p. 21. People, February 19, 1996, William Plummer, review of Absolute Power, p. 31; May 12, 1997, "David Baldacci," p. 135; January 26, 1998, William Plummer, review of The Winner, p. 33; December 21, 1998; Paula Chin, review of The Simple Truth, p. 45; November 17, 2003, Sherryl Connelly, review of Split Second, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, review of Absolute Power, p. 42; December 2, 1996, review of Total Control, p. 41; April 14, 1997, Paul Nathan, "Building Momentum," p. 26; October 6, 1997, review of The Winner, p. 73; October 5, 1998, review of The Simple Truth, p. 78; November 8, 1999, review of Saving Faith, p. 50; November 22, 1999, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "Baldacci's Savings," p. 16; July 17, 2000, review of Wish You Well, p. 171; November 5, 2001, review of Last Man Standing, p. 42; December 10, 2001, Jeff Zaleski, "A Return to Thrillers," p. 47; October 7, 2002, review of The Christmas Train, p. 52; August 18, 2003, review of Split Second, pp. 58-59.
Redbook, December, 2001, Jaye Munger, review of Wish You Well, p. G3.
Variety, February 10, 1997, Todd McCarthy, review of Absolute Power, p. 62.
Writer, June, 1997, Lewis Burke Frumkes, "A Conversation with ... David Baldacci," pp. 11-13.
Writer's Digest, January, 1997, Audrey T. Hingley, "After 11 Years and 10,000 Discarded Pages, He's an Overnight Success,"pp. 30-32.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (December, 2002).
Book Reporter,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (December 21, 2001) interview with Baldacci; (November, 2002), interview with Baldacci.
Official David Baldacci Web site,http://www.david-baldacci.com/ (May 16, 2004).
Warner Books,http://www.twbookmark.com/ (May 16, 2004).*