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A Minute To Midnight

A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT . . . Between the covers

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There’s probably a PhD somewhere waiting for the person who writes a thesis on the ratio of fictional female FBI agents to their male counterparts, then setting this against the equation among real-life graduates of Quantico. In the world of crime fiction, there is certainly equal opportunity. The most celebrated is probably the indominatable Clarice Starling (Thomas Harris) but many others run her close, including Alex Morse (Greg Iles), Smokey Barratt (Cody McFadyen), Kathryn Dance (Jeffery Deaver), Kimberley Quincy (Lisa Gardner) and Lacey Sherlock (Cathrine Coulter). David Baldacci has bought into the idea with his Agent Atlee Pine, who he introduced in Long Road To Mercy (2018). That title is something of a pun because Atlee Pine’s twin sister was abducted one mysterious night thirty years earlier and her name – you’ve guessed it – is Mercy.

AMTM coverAtlee Pine has anger management issues, and A Minute To Midnight begins as she is put on gardening leave for kicking the you-know-what out of a child rapist. She decides to use this enforced leisure time in another attempt to find out what happened on the fateful night when her sister was abducted and she was left with a fractured skull. Accompanied by her admin assistant Carol Blum, she revisits the scene of the trauma, the modest town of Andersonville, Georgia. Tumbleweed is the word that first comes to mind about Andersonville, but it scrapes a living from tourists wishing to visit the remains of the Confederate prisoner of war camp which, in its mere fourteen months of existence, caged over thirty thousand Union prisoners of whom nearly thirteen thousand were to perish from wounds, disease and malnutrition.

The house where Pine, Mercy and their parents lived is now little more than a tumbledown shack lived in by a shambolic old man, and revisiting her childhood bedroom brings the agent emotional grief but no further clues as to what happened that night. Why was she spared and Mercy taken? Or was it the other way round? Were her parents drunk and drugged out of their minds downstairs while the abductor did his business?

David BaldacciA series of apparently motiveless murders in Andersonville diverts Pine from the search for her own personal truth, and she is soon enlisted to help the understaffed and under-resourced local cops. The first murder victims – a man and a woman – are killed elsewhere but then delivered to Andersonville bedecked as bride and groom respectively. When it turns out that they were both involved in the porn industry, what first appears to be a significant lead runs into a brick wall.

Pine’s personal quest is ever present, and Baldacci weaves this thread into the fabric of the search for the present day serial killer. For my taste there are rather too many occasions where the narrative is propped up by the investigators explaining things to each other, but this is a cleverly written thriller by a master craftsman in the genre. The Andersonville killings are solved, and Atlee Pine is subject to some uncomfortable revelations about her own back-story, but this is not the end of the matter. David Baldacci clearly has more secrets up his sleeve as an addictive series begins to take shape. A Minute To Midnight is published by Macmillan and is out on 14th November.

For more on books by David Baldacci click here.

 

 

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . October 2019

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I make not even the slightest trace of an apology for not jumping on the regrettable Halloween bandwagon. Someone on my Twitter timeline was emoting about “this time of darkness and evil deeds, when spirits of the dead walk the earth.” The only beings that walk the earth where I live are over-excited children dressed in plastic tat from ASDA (other suppliers of mass produced seasonal rubbish are available) disturbing my peace and begging for tooth-destroying sweets (also available from exploitative mass retailers in handy packs) while their aggressive parents lurk not far behind, ready to leap in with an oath or three should I reject the advances of their offspring. Rant over. Instead of pumpkins I offer publications – four of the best to get stuck into as the nights lengthen.

A MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT by David Baldacci

Atlee Pine is a female FBI agent with what some like to describe as a kick-ass attitude. Like all the best fictional law enforces she has a troubled past, and hers involves the abduction and presumed murder of her twin sister when they were little. She is convinced that a serial killer called Daniel Tor – now serving thirty life sentences in a Colorado jail – either did the deed or knows who did. When Pine takes enforced holiday leave after nearly battering a child rapist to death, she is drawn back into the search for the truth about what happened to sister Mercy all those years ago. Ignoring Nietzsche’s famous homily about the Abyss, Pine becomes snared in a web of secrets, lies – and indescribable evil. A Minute To Midnight is published by Macmillan and will be out on 14th November.

THE GRID by Nick Cook

Thrills of a different kind now, from celebrated defence analyst and journalist Nick Cook. His latest novel explores the complex and controversial world of surveillance and counter intelligence work. US Presidents have an unenviable record of becoming assassination targets, so much so that it might as well be in the job description. The current occupant of The Oval Office, President Thompson has been subject to vivid recurring dreams about his own demise, so much so that he confides in Josh Cain, his personal doctor. Cain’s background is in military psychiatry, but even his experiences of dealing with the trauma caused by battle doesn’t prepare him for what he is about to discover. When a sniper’s bullet ends a startling confession from a former US Marine, Cain is served dramatic notice that he is about to participate in his President’s nightmare. Also out on 14th November, The Grid is published by Transworld.

Authors

DIE ALONE by Simon Kernick

A novel with the words Simon Kernick on the front cover is pretty much guaranteed a second look from most readers who enjoy their crime with a political flavour. We may have our doubts about the respective merits of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn (other party leaders are available) but I don’t think it is seriously suggested that either is a serial killer. Not so with Alastair Sheridan, the central character in Kernick’s latest novel. Suave, handsome and charming, Sheridan is everyone’s tip to become First Lord of The Treasury and occupant of London SW1 2AA. Everyone? Well, almost. A select group, a modern day illuminati, know that Sheridan is a killer, and they employ disgraced detective Ray Mason to kill him before he gains power and silences those who know the truth about his actions. Mason soon realises that things are not entirely what they seem, but how can he – to mix two body metaphors – keep both his hands clean and his head on his shoulders? Published by Century, Die Alone is out on 28th November.

GOLGOTHA by Guy Portman

It is a sad reflection of the state of British cultural life in this second decade of the 21st century that satirists like Guy Portman should have to go down the self-publishing route to bring his books to readers. Yes, his books shock. Yes, they direct a flamethrower into the bunkers inhabited by the politically correct and woke glad-handers in the publishing world. Yes, Portman fails to respect the notion that some cultural practices must remain immune from criticism.

His anti-hero is the delightfully despicable Dyson Devereux. We first met him as an iconoclastic manager of a municipal cemetery in Necropolis. His homicidal streak appeared to run into the buffers at the end of Sepultura, and Golgotha starts with him in an Italian jail awaiting his trial for murder. Guy Portman has an extraordinary talent to amuse – and raise eyebrows. Leave him alone if your sense of humour is only tickled by offence-averse sitcoms. If you were raised on a diet of M*A*S*H*, Catch 22 and American Psycho, then take a chance – if you injure yourself laughing, then blame me. You can buy Golgotha here.

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