A savage serial killer is on the loose in rural Virginia; a murderer who adds insult to injury by leaving taunting signs on his victims. While investigating another crime, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are pulled into the serial killer hunt. As they search for the countryside slayer, they begin to suspect that the two cases may be connected. Worse yet, they realize that a second killer has joined the fray, imitating the murders of the first....
Baldacci's last book, Split Second, was a relatively weak offering from this bestselling author, sunk by a cartoonish villain and absurd plot. But it did introduce two of Baldacci's (Absolute Power, etc.) most memorable characters, former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, in business together as private investigators in smalltown Wrightsburg, Va. Baldacci is back in form, and King and Maxwell reappear in this utterly absorbing, complex mystery-thriller that spins in unexpected directions. The novel starts as a serial-killer thriller, for there's a murderer at work in Wrightsburg whose selection of victims appears random but whose modus operandi, differing from kill to kill, mimics the work of a notorious serial killer-the Zodiac killer, John Wayne Gacy, etc. The fifth victim is local resident and international tycoon Robert E. Lee Battle. King and Maxwell have already been tangling with the gothic horror show of a dysfunctional Southern family that is the Battles, as they've been hired to help prove the innocence of a Battle handyman accused of stealing from the family. Then that handyman is murdered, and the duo (along with a clueless local sheriff and an obnoxious FBI agent) must race to figure out if the same killer is behind all the murders and, if so, why. There are terrific action sequences sprinkled throughout, and plenty of suspense, and the King/Maxwell relationship, while not romantic, emits sparks. It's Baldacci's portrayal of smalltown Southern life, however, and his sharp characterizations of the Battles, from the bombastic Bobby and his regal widow to his weird extended family, that give the novel texture and depth: this is Baldacci's most accomplished tale since his nonthriller Wish You Well, and it rivals that novel in its social commentary. Despite fair clues, few if any readers will ID the villain (villains?) before they're revealed, and a snappy surprise ending will have Baldacci's many fans remembering why they love this author so much. Agent, Aaron Priest. (Oct. 26) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
One of the residents of a small lakeside town in central Virginia has an IQ of 165, belongs to Mensa, and completes the New York Times crossword puzzle with ease every Sunday. He also happens to be a serial killer. In his tenth novel (after Split Second), Baldacci reaffirms his position at the top of the psychological thriller genre with this intriguing examination of a murderer's psyche. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, who first appeared in Split Second, return as former Secret Service agents trying to track down a meticulous killer who doesn't make mistakes. The killer taunts the authorities by leaving on his victims a watch set to the hour corresponding with their position on his hit list. The investigation weaves throughout the aptly named Battle family, a traditional Southern clan full of dark secrets and steamy lies. To end this killer's game, King and Maxwell must solve the riddle of intertwining motives and alibis. Strongly recommended for most popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.]-Ken Bolton, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A serial killer with a sense of history is the baddie in this latest from Baldacci, one of the reigning kings of potboilers (Split Second, 2003, etc.). He kills, he leaves clues, he flatters through imitation: Son of Sam, the San Francisco Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gracy, and so on down a sanguinary list of accredited members of the Monsters' Hall of Fame. Suddenly, the landscape of poor little Wrightsburg, Virginia, is littered with corpses, and ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have their hands full. That's because bewildered, beleaguered Chief of Police Todd Williams has turned to the newly minted private investigating firm of King and Maxwell for desperately needed (unofficial) help. Even these ratiocinative wizards, however, admit to puzzlement. "But I'm not getting this," says Michelle. "Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you're not them?" Excellent question, and it goes pretty much unanswered. Never mind-enter the battling Battles, a family with the requisite number of sins and secrets to qualify fully as hot southern Gothic and to prop up a plot in need. Bobby Battles, the patriarch, is bedridden, but Remmy, his wife, is one lively mischief-making steel magnolia. She's brought breaking-and-entering charges against decent local handyman Junior Deaver, who as a result languishes in the county jail. Convinced of his innocence, Junior's lawyer hires King & Maxwell to sniff around for exculpatory evidence. Well, will the two plot streams flow together? You betcha. Will the copycat-serial-killer at one point decide that King and Maxwell are just too clever to live?Inevitably. And when at last that CCSK's identity is revealed and his crimes explained (talkily and tediously), will readers be satisfied? Only the charitable among them. Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.
New York Daily News
"King and Maxwell are fictional treats, a fabulously entertaining team, and the action is hot and hard."
"HOUR GAME has the elements of a classic Baldacci thriller. His characters keep getting better and richer and the plots-while always tight and well executed-are becoming more intricate and realistic...There is no question: David Baldacci will stay on the bestseller list for a long time to come."
"The action is suspenseful and relentless."
From the Publisher
"King and Maxwell are fictional treats, a fabulously entertaining team, and the action is hot and hard."New York Daily News"
The action is suspenseful and relentless."Newark Star-Ledger"
Utterly absorbing...spins in unexpected directions...There are terrific action sequences throughout and plenty of suspense...texture and depth...A snappy surprise ending will have Baldacci's many fans remembering why they love this author so much."Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
HOUR GAME has the elements of a classic Baldacci thriller. His characters keep getting better and richer and the plots-while always tight and well executed-are becoming more intricate and realistic...There is no question: David Baldacci will stay on the bestseller list for a long time to come."Richmond Times-Dispatch
Read an Excerpt
By David Baldacci
Warner Books Copyright © 2004 Columbus Rose, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE MAN IN THE RAIN SLICKER WALKED slightly bent over, his breathing labored and his body sweaty. The extra weight he was bearing, though not all that substantial, was awkwardly placed, and the terrain was uneven. It was never an easy thing to tote a dead body through the woods in the middle of the night. He shifted the corpse to his left shoulder and trudged on. The soles of his shoes bore no distinguishing marks; not that it would have mattered, since the rain quickly washed away any traces of footprints. He'd checked the forecast; the rain was why he was here. The inclement weather was the best friend he could ask for.
Aside from the dead body draped over his sturdy shoulder, the man was also remarkable for the black hood he wore, on which was stitched an esoteric symbol that ran down the length of the cloth. It was a circle with a crosshairs through its middle. Probably instantly recognizable to anyone over the age of fifty, the logo once inspired a dread that had significantly eroded with time. It didn't matter that no one "alive" would see him wearing the hood; he took grim satisfaction in its lethal symbolism.
Within ten minutes he'd reached the location he'd carefully selected on an earlier visit, and laid the body down with a reverence that belied the violent manner in which the person had died. He took a deep breath and held it as he undid the telephone wire holding the bundle closed, and unwrapped the plastic. She was young with features that had been attractive two days prior; the woman was not much to look at now. The soft blond hair fell away from the greenish-tinged skin, revealing closed eyes and bloated cheeks. Had the eyes been open, they might have still held the startled gaze of the deceased as she endured her own murder, an experience replicated roughly thirty thousand times each year in America.
He slid the plastic all the way free and laid the woman on her back. Then he let out his breath, fought the urge to retch caused by the stench of the body, and sucked in another lungful of air. Using one of his gloved hands and his light, he searched for and found the small, forked branch that he'd earlier placed in the bramble nearby. He used this to support the woman's forearm, which he'd positioned such that it was pointing to the sky. The body's rigor mortis, though rapidly fading, had made the task difficult, but he was strong and had finally levered the stiffened limb to the correct angle. He took the watch out of his pocket, checked with his flashlight to make sure it was set properly, and placed it around the dead woman's wrist.
Though far from a religious man, he knelt over the body and muttered a brief prayer, cupping his hand over his mouth and nose as he did so.
"You weren't directly responsible, but you were all I had. You didn't die in vain. And I believe you're actually better off." Did he really believe what he had just said? Maybe not. Maybe it didn't matter.
He looked at the dead woman's face, studying her features scrupulously as though a scientist observing a particularly fascinating experiment. He had never killed another person before. He'd made it quick and, he hoped, painless. In the dull, misty night the woman seemed surrounded by a yellowish glow, as though she'd already become a spirit.
He drew farther back and examined the area all around, checking for any extraneous items that might lead to evidence against him. He discovered only a piece of cloth from his hood that had caught on a bush near where the body lay. Careless, you can't afford that. He placed it in his pocket. He spent several more minutes looking for other such items nearing microscopic size.
In the world of criminal investigation it was these forensic "no-see-ums" that did one in. A single drop of blood, semen or saliva, a smudge of fingerprint, a hair follicle with a bit of DNA-littered root attached, and the police could be reading you your rights while prosecutors circled hungrily nearby. Unfortunately, even full awareness of that reality offered little protection. Every criminal, no matter how careful, left potentially incriminating material at the crime scene. Thus, he'd taken great care to have no direct physical contact with the dead woman as though she were an infectious agent that could cause a fatal disease.
He rolled up the plastic and pocketed the telephone cord, checked the watch once more and then slowly made his way back to his car.
Behind him lay the dead woman, her hand upraised to the watery heavens. Her watch was slightly luminous in the dark and made a dull beacon for her new resting place. She wouldn't remain undiscovered for long. Dead bodies aboveground rarely did, even in places as isolated as this.
As he drove off, the hooded man used his finger to trace the symbol on his hood, making the sign of the cross at the same time. The crosshairs symbol also appeared on the face of the watch he'd placed on the dead woman's wrist. That should certainly get a rise out of them. He took a breath full of excitement as well as dread. For years he had imagined that this day would never come. For years his courage had faltered. Now that the first step had been taken, he felt a great sense of empowerment and liberation.
He shifted into third gear and sped up, his tires grabbing the slicked roadway and holding firm as the darkness swallowed up the lights of his blue VW. He wanted to get to where he was going as fast as possible.
He had a letter to write.
Excerpted from Hour Game by David Baldacci Copyright © 2004 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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