Baldacci, David 1960-
Baldacci, David 1960-
Born 1960, in Richmond, VA; son of Rudolph (a trucking foreman) Baldacci; married Michelle Collin (a para-
Home—Vienna, VA. Office—Reston, VA. Agent—Aaron Priest Literary Agency, 708 3rd Ave., 23rd Fl., New York, NY 10017.
Writer. Trial and corporate lawyer in Washington, DC, for nine years. Board member of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Virginia Commonwealth University; Wish You Well Foundation, cofounder, 1999. National Multiple Sclerosis Society ambassador; volunteer for literacy and other causes, including Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, American Cancer Society, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Gold Medal Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, Southern Writers Guild, 1996, and W.H. Smith's Thumping Good Read Award for fiction, 1997, both for Absolute Power; Gold Medal Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, Southern Writers Guild, 1997, for Total Control.
Wish You Well (young adult novel), Warner Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Fries Alive!, ("Freddy and the French Fries" series), illustrated by Rudy Baldacci, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2005.
The Mystery of Silas Finklebean ("Freddy and the French Fries" series), illustrated by Rudy Baldacci, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.
NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
Absolute Power, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Total Control, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Winner, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Simple Truth, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Saving Faith, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Last Man Standing, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Christmas Train, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Split Second, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Hour Game, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Camel Club, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Collectors, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Simple Genius, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Stone Cold, Grand Central Publishing (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Panorama (Italy), UVA Lawyer, Welt am Sonntag (Germany), Tatler (United Kingdom), New Statesman, and USA Today. Also author of unproduced screenplays.
Baldacci's works have been translated into over thirty languages.
Absolute Power was adapted by William Goldman as a film starring Clint Eastwood and produced by Castle Rock, 1997. Rights to Total Control were sold to Columbia/TriStar. The 2002 USA cable-network pilot McCourt & Stein was based on a novel by Baldacci. Many of Baldacci's novels have been adapted as audiobooks.
Praised by legions of fans for his tantalizing premises and fast action, David Baldacci is the best-selling author of suspense novels such as Absolute Power, Total Control, and Last Man Standing. A former lawyer, Baldacci is frequently compared by critics to novelist John Grisham, although his more recent fiction has strayed far from the courtroom setting of his 1996 debut, Absolute Power. While sometimes panned by critics, Baldacci's rise to the best-seller lists has been characterized by many as meteoric, fueled by a screen adaptation of his first novel starring popular actor Clint Eastwood. "I never expected my writing to generate any monies," the author noted on his home page. "However, when success came, it came fast. I am an overnight success, but, being somewhat slower than others, it took me five thousand nights to get there."
An advocate of literacy, Baldacci has also written for children and teens, producing the novels in his "Freddy and the French Fries" series as well as the young-adult novel Wish You Well. In 1999 he joined his wife in founding the Wish You Well Foundation, which supports family literacy through developing and existing literacy programs throughout the United States. "Our stated goal is to eradicate illiteracy in the United States, particularly among adults," Baldacci told interviewer Marat Moore in the ASHA Leader.
An avid reader, Baldacci developed an early love for the written word and made countless trips to his local library with his mother. "Reading opened my eyes to the power of words—and showed me the world," the author remarked to Moore. "I thought then that if someone could capture my attention through language—symbols on a page—what power they had! We think in language, after all. How broad can your mind be if you can't conceive ideas using language, or think for yourself? Without that capacity, we are just spoon-fed our entire lives. The only reason I'm a writer today is because, as a child, I was such a reader."
Baldacci began writing regularly while in high school and college, trying his hand at short stories. As his collection of rejection slips grew, Baldacci turned his attention to screenplays and novels. After penning the opening chapter of a thriller, he contacted several agents and received nearly as many offers to represent him. Baldacci spent the next two years writing Absolute Power, working as a lawyer by day and writing from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. When the manuscript was finished it was sold in just one day.
Featuring a plot described by a Kirkus Reviews critic as "the mother of all presidential cover-ups," Absolute Power mixes politics and petty theft. In the book, veteran thief Luther Whitney is robbing a billionaire's home when he is interrupted by the lady of the house, who is returning home with her lover, the president of the United States. As Whitney watches from a closet, the couple's sexual foreplay turns violent and the woman defends herself against the president with a letter opener. Angered, the president calls in the Secret Service men who have accompanied him to the house; they shoot and kill the woman. Whitney, who has witnessed all, remains undetected until he leaves the house in possession of the letter opener. Now he becomes the focus of a secret manhunt and while trying to save his own life, he attempts to seek justice for the dead woman, blackmail the president, and otherwise get his revenge. When he fears he may soon be discovered, Whitney involves lawyer Jack Graham, his daughter's former fiancée, to help prove that the president is a heartless villain.
While some critics identified faults in Absolute Power, the consensus was that the novel will please readers and film goers. In Booklist Gilbert Taylor wrote that, while the book "could stand some polishing in plot and story structure," its adaptability to film "ensures demand for a tale that is all action and no message." A Publishers Weekly critic dubbed the book a "sizzler of a first novel," adding that, while "Baldacci doesn't peer too
deeply into his characters' souls … he's … a first-rate storyteller." A Kirkus Reviews contributor was disappointed that, despite its "arresting premise," Absolute Power ultimately distills into "an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins." Jean Hanff Korelitz came to a similar conclusion in the New York Times, but credited the problem to the novelist's relative inexperience. The thriller'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," Korelitz maintained, concluding that Baldacci "brings an insider's savvy" to the story but lacks experience in plotting.
Baldacci's sophomore effort, Total Control, begins when lawyer Sidney Archer learns that her husband, Jason, has died in a plane crash. However, she later discovers that the death may have been a hoax and that Jason has disappeared in possession of high-tech corporate secrets. As the questions mount, Sidney loses her job and soon finds herself pursued by a group of assassins seeking an encrypted computer disk Jason presumably mailed to himself. Aided by an FBI agent who is her only trust- worthy form of help, Sidney attempts to protect herself and her young daughter from a variety of evil competitors.
Total Control received the inevitable comparisons with Baldacci's blockbuster Absolute Power, a Publishers Weekly reviewer writing that the author's "windy thriller shows a slack authorial hand and generates only a fraction of the chills in Baldacci's bombastically effective debut." Kathy Piehl, reviewing Total Control for Library Journal, contended that the novelist "writes strictly for action, not wasting time developing characters or setting." In Booklist Donna Seaman, praised Total Control as more suspenseful than Absolute Power, and "also far more interesting in terms of the questions it raises about how much technology controls us."
Other thrillers have followed from Baldacci's pen, among them The Winner, The Simple Truth, Last Man Standing, and Saving Faith. In The Winner unwed mother Luann Tyler is offered the opportunity to share in a rigged one-hundred-million-dollar national lottery jackpot by a mysterious man named Jackson. Although she first declines, after she witnesses the murder of her drug-addict boyfriend and then kills the assailant in self-defense, she eventually uses Jackson's offer as a way of evading a murder charge. Although Luann agrees to leave the country permanently, she returns ten years later and becomes a target for murder. A man's wish to overturn his murder conviction is at the core of The Simple Truth, when felon Rufus Harms learns he was drugged at the time he supposedly murdered a young girl. When Harms' appeal to the Supreme Court is purloined by do-gooder law clerk Michael Fiske, the clerk becomes the target of the murderous conspirators that originally orchestrated Harms' imprisonment. Saving Faith finds whistleblower Faith Lockhart targeted by a hit man after she decides to reveal all she knows to the FBI, aided in her efforts to stay alive by a local private investigator who may or may not be trustworthy. The massacre of the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team takes center stage in Last Man Standing, when lone team survivor Web London joins forces with psychiatrist Claire Daniels to find out why he alone survived the deadly ambush. Not surprisingly, Web's investigation sparks further murders as his search takes him from the nation's capital to rural Virginia.
Characteristically, despite his continued position at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, Baldacci has earned mixed reviews for his work. In his New York Times Book Review of The Winner, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt complained that while the novel's text is "full of mixed metaphors and malapropisms," Baldacci's ending is full of the effective surprises that will make it an "inevitable" best-seller. Reviewing the same novel, a Publishers Weekly critic cited the story's "suspense, excitement and bankability," adding that although Baldacci reuses plot element from earlier books, "his strong characters and sheer Grishamlike exuberance … will … thrust [The Winner] … toward the top of the charts." While a Kirkus Reviews contributor dismissed The Simple Truth as "a tiresome potboiler" and "just another big, silly book about lawyers," a Publishers Weekly writer maintained that, "for foxy plotting, [Baldaccci] is easily Grisham's peer." While The Simple Truth "isn't Baldacci's most original book," the critic added, "… it's his most generously textured, distinguished by delvings into family psychodramatics." Reviewing Saving Faith, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that while the plotting is somewhat overwrought, the storyline "moves fast … and its players and suspense are strong."
The nation's capital is the setting of The Camel Club, which introduces a cabal of four middle-aged men who have a shared suspicion of those who wield political power. Known by the pseudonyms Oliver Stone, Reuben, Caleb, and Milton, the members of the Camel Club keep pace with the news outside the mainstream, including conspiracy theories and back-room rumors. When members witness a murder on remote Roosevelt Island, they find themselves at the center of one of the most threatening intrigues they could imagine, and ultimately call on Secret Service agent Alex Ford to stop an apocalyptic event of international proportions. As The Collectors opens, the Camel Club has failed in its efforts to avert a national tragedy. Now the club's members are determined to stop further violence and plug a leak of information that compromises the safety of the nation. The murder of the director of the Library of Congress provides another clue to the puzzle, while the added help of a sexy con artist named Annabelle Conroy puts a potential wrinkle in the Camel Club's ongoing efforts. Calling the novelist "a master at building suspense," Huntley predicted that the high-octane ending of The Camel Club "will leave readers breathless," and Library Journal contributor Ken Bolton wrote that the novel's "terrifyingly vivid plot has more twists and turns than any conspiracy theorist could ever conceive." Reviewing The Collectors, Booklist contributor Allison Block cited Baldacci's "crisp, economical prose" and wrote that the novel's "cast of spies, misfits, and assassins" will prompt "even the most patriotic citizen question the American political system."
In Stone Cold, another Camel Club adventure, con artist Annabelle Conroy seeks the help of her old friend Stone after she scams a murderous casino owner. Meanwhile Stone, a former CIA assassin, finds himself targeted by a security expert hoping to settle an old score. "When Baldacci is on fire, nobody can touch him, and this is an exhilarating thriller," wrote Booklist contributor David Pitt. "Gripping, chilling and full of surprises," remarked a critic in Publishers Weekly.
Baldacci turns to murder in Split Second and its sequels Hour Game and Simple Genius, all of which feature former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. Retired from the service and working as an attorney, King returns to sleuthing when a colleague is found dead. Active agent Maxwell is drawn in to the
hunt when the man she is assigned to guard goes missing, the target of kidnappers. As more victims surface, the two team up on a mystery that grows more complex with every new clue. In Hour Game King and Maxwell join forces to track down a serial killer with a timely signature: each victim is found wearing a wristwatch on which time has stopped. As the murders continue, the trail leads to the Battle family, a small-town, Virginia clan whose mysterious past is unearthed by the sleuths as they close in on the fastidious killer. In a Booklist review of Split Second, Kristine Huntley wrote that the "thriller is sustained by the pulse-pounding suspense [Baldacci's] … fans have come to expect," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed the sequel an "utterly absorbing, complex mystery-thriller that spins in unexpected directions." Noting that the villain's identity remains hidden until the novel's final pages, the Publishers Weekly reviewer added that Hour Game rewards readers with a "snappy surprise ending will have Baldacci's many fans remembering why they love this author so much." In Simple Genius, the duo investigates the death of scientist at Babbage Town, a top-secret think-tank connected to a CIA training center. Complicating matters is Maxwell's puzzling, self-destructive behavior, which prompts a stay at a mental health facility. Though some reviewers viewed Simple Genius as the weakest of Baldacci's King and Maxwell novels, Gilbert Cruz, writing in Entertainment Weekly, noted that the author's "psychological look into a familiar character … marks the biggest departure" from his standard fare.
With Wish You Well Baldacci jumps genres, writing a coming-of-age novel that takes place in the 1940s. The story involves twelve-year-old Lou Cardinal and her younger brother Oz, who are sent from their home in New York City to live with an elderly relative on a farm in rural Virginia after their parents are injured in an automobile accident. After their father dies and the mother is rendered incapacitated, Lou and Oz struggle to adapt, both to their family's tragedy and the strange habits of their eccentric and single-minded great grandmother Louisa. Reviewing the novel for Publishers Weekly, a critic wrote that "Baldacci triumphs with his best novel yet," calling Wish You Well "an utterly captivating drama" that "has a huge heart." In Kliatt, Judith H. Silverman dubbed the young-adult novel as an "an excellent portrait of race and class distinction of the time and place," while Kathy Piehl predicted in Library Journal that "readers of historical fiction will welcome [Baldacci's] … debut in the genre."
Baldacci's first work for children, Fries Alive!, is part of the "Freddy and the French Fries" series concerning boy genius Freddy Funkhouser. When nine-year-old Freddy combines nanotechnology with his father's special brand of potatoes, he creates a rowdy gang of five life-size French fries. Freddy, his pal Howie Kapowie, and the fries join forces to compete in the annual Founders' Day Parade float contest. They take top prize from town bully Adam Spanker and his father, whose snazzy Patty Cakes restaurant has threatened to put the Funkhouser's Burger Castle out of business. "Baldacci's over-the-top action vaults at breakneck speed from one crisis to another," noted Booklist reviewer Kay Weisman. A mysterious apparition is at the center of The Mystery of Silas Finklebean, a sequel to Fries Alive! While preparing for a local science fair, Freddy and his group of spuds spot a ghostly spirit inhabiting a tunnel beneath the Burger Castle. When he discovers the lab of inventor Silas Finklebean, Freddy enlists the fries to help him duplicate the scientist's time-travel experiments.
Baldacci dedicates much of his time to his family, as well as to literacy and other social causes, and he serves as an ambassador to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of a sister who suffers from the debilitating illness. His first love, however, is writing. "I am always thinking about and seeking story ideas," the author remarked on his home page. "As a writer, you can never ‘turn off’ our passion for the written word and love of a great story. So I watch life, listen intently, and basically drive everyone around me a bit crazy as I absorb every environment in which I find myself."
Biographical and Critical Sources
ASHA Leader, October 16, 2007, Marat Moore, "A Passion for Literacy," p. 22.
Booklist, November 1, 1995, review of Absolute Power, p. 434; November 15, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of Absolute Power, p. 548; October 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of Total Control, p. 362; September 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Simple Truth, p. 5; October 1, 1999, Emily Melton and Gilbert Taylor, review of Saving Faith, p. 307; June 1, 2001, Whitney Scott, review of Wish You Well, p. 1908; November 1, 2001, Kristine Huntley, review of Last Man Standing, p. 442; November 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of The Christmas Train, p. 450; September 1, 2004, Kristine Huntley, review of Hour Game, p. 4; July, 2005, Kay Weisman, review of Fries Alive!, p.
1924; September 1, 2005, Kristine Huntley, review of The Camel Club, p. 5; July, 2006, Kay Weisman, review of Fries Alive!, p. 1924; September 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of The Collectors, p. 6; October 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of Stone Cold, p. 6.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2005, Hope Morrison, review of Fries Alive!, p. 6.
Entertainment Weekly, April 27, 2007, Gilbert Cruz, review of Simple Genius, p. 144.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1995, review of Absolute Power, p. 1444; September 15, 1998, review of The Simple Truth, p. 1302; October 1, 2002, review of The Christmas Train, p. 1411; July 15, 2003, review of Split Second, p. 921; August 15, 2004, review of Hour Game, p. 756; May 15, 2005, review of Fries Alive!, p. 584; September 1, 2005, review of The Camel Club, p. 929; July 15, 2006, review of The Collectors, p. 687; April 1, 2007, review of Simple Genius.
Kliatt, January, 2002, Judith H. Silverman, review of Wish You Well, p. 8.
Library Journal, January, 1997, Kathy Piehl, review of Total Control, p. 142; November 15, 1997, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of Total Control, p. 88; April 1, 1998, review of The Simple Truth, p. 143; May 1, 2000, Michael Adams, review of Saving Faith, p. 170; September 1, 2000, Kathy Piehl, review of Wish You Well, p. 248; October 15, 2004, Ken Bolton, review of Hour Game, p. 52; January 1, 2007, Jeff Ayers, review of The Collectors, p. 51.
New York Times, December 11, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "The Lottery as Thriller: Hey, You Never Know," p. E12.
New York Times Book Review, February 25, 1996, Jean Hanff Korelitz, review of Absolute Power, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 1995, review of Absolute Power, p. 42; December 2, 1996, review of Absolute Power, p. 41; April 14, 1997, review of Total Control, p. 261; October 6, 1997, review of The Winner, p. 73; March 2, 1998, review of The Winner, p. 30; October 5, 1998, review of The Simple Truth, p. 78; November 8, 1999, review of Saving Faith, 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 interview with Baldacci, p. 47; August 18, 2003, review of Split Second, p. 58; September 20, 2004, review of Hour Game, p. 46; November 8, 2004, Daisy Maryles, "He Got Game," p. 14; May 30, 2005, review of Fries Alive!, p. 61; August 22, 2005, review of The Camel Club, p. 35; March 26, 2007, review of Simple Genius, p. 68; August 27, 2007, review of Stone Cold, p. 59; September 3, 2007, Melissa Mia Hall, interview with Baldacci, p. 36.
School Library Journal, June, 2005, Elizabeth Bird, review of Fries Alive!, p. 148; April, 2006, Elaine E. Knight, review of The Mystery of Silas Finklebean, p. 133; June, 2006, Elizabeth Bird, review of Fries Alive!, p. 148.
Times Literary Supplement, June 25, 1999, review of The Simple Truth, p. 37.
Washingtonian, August, 2007, Leslie Milk, "Mystery Man," p. 52.
Writer, June, 1997, Lewis Burke Frumkes, interview with Baldacci, p. 11.
Writer's Digest, January, 1997, Audrey T. Hingley, interview with Baldacci, p. 30.
David Baldacci Home Page,http://www.davidbaldacci.com (November 10, 2007).
Hatchette Book Group Web site,http://www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/ (November 10, 2007).