Book review: David Baldacci delves into the troubled past of assassin Will Robie in The Guilty

What made Robie such a willing killer for the state? Baldacci sends him home to uncover some long-buried facts in this superior piece of fiction

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 December, 2015, 12:00pm

The Guilty

by David Baldacci

Grand Central Publishing

David Baldacci’s four best-selling novels about government assassin Will Robie have straddled that line of edgy, high-concept suspense, augmented with a bit of the political thriller and deep character studies. In The Guilty, Baldacci takes a different tack with a more personal (but just as thrilling) tale about Will’s past, looking at how he became a man so willing to kill for his country.

The Guilty works well as the tale of a man coming to terms with his past, and of the bonds between father and son, as well as an action-packed adventure story. Although the novel’s denouement falters and slides into the unrealistic, The Guilty is still a first-class thriller.

Will is so haunted by a tragedy that occurred during his last assignment that his usually steely nerves fail him during an important mission. Has he lost his edge, or does he just need a break from his assignments? To help him refocus, Will’s supervisor – known only as the Blue Man – lets him know that his father is awaiting trial for murder in Cantrell, their small Mississippi hometown.

Will hasn’t spoken to his father, Dan, nor been back to Cantrell in more than 20 years. He doesn’t know his father has become a judge and has remarried a much younger woman with whom he has a young son. Will and his father had a volatile, distant relationship. But as much as Will dislikes his father, he cannot believe he would murder anyone. In trying to clear his father, Will is besieged with emotions he thought long dormant, especially memories of his high school girlfriend, whose former home is now owned by his father and stepmother. Once one of the popular guys in town, Will is now viewed as an outsider by Cantrell because he has been gone so long.

Baldacci delivers a perceptive look at a small town whose residents have chosen to isolate themselves and their suspiciousness of outsiders. Uncovering buried secrets is a regular theme of crime fiction and Baldacci makes the most of this, showing how hidden enigmas can taint a person’s life.

The relationship between father and son forms the heart of The Guilty, and Baldacci wisely allows the tension between Will and Dan to drive this solid plot. Neither man is the emotional type, but each will come to a separate peace about who the other is. It’s easy to overlook an illogical ending when the rest of The Guilty is as good as it is.

Tribune News Service