David Baldacci: A Writer with Absolute Power

I think Absolute Power is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story is incredible and actually believable. Written by David Baldacci in 1996, it’s a book about the president, a secret affair, and a hidden murder. If you’ve never read it or seen the movie starring Clint Eastwood, I highly recommend it. Actually, I recommend the book more than the movie because as usual, Mr. Eastwood took liberties with his rendition. With this book we were introduced to Baldacci, an attorney, an author, and a damn good-looking man.

In this spine-tingling mystery, Luther Whitney, a lifelong thief, gets caught at the scene of a robbery. The place he hides has a two-way mirror and Luther witnesses a murder—the murder of the president’s mistress—and that’s just the beginning.

Here’s a little section:

Luther heard the vehicles enter the front drive. He flitted to a window and followed the mini-caravan as it went around back, where it would be hidden from view from the front drive. He counted four people alighting from the limo, one from the van. His mind scrolled swiftly through possible identities. Too small a party for it to be the owners of the house. Too many for it to be someone simply checking on the place. He could not make out any faces. For one ironic instant Luther debated whether the home was destined to be burgled twice on the same night. But that was too enormous a coincidence. In this business, like a lot of others, you played the percentages. Besides, criminals did not march up to their targets wearing clothing more suitable for a night on the town.

He thought quickly as noises filtered up to him, presumably from outside the rear of the house. It took him a second to realize that his retreat was cut off and to calculate what his plan of action would be.

Grabbing his bag, he raced to the alarm panel next to the bedroom door and activated the home’s security system, silently thanking his memory for numbers. Then Luther slipped across to the vault and entered it, carefully closing the door behind him. He pushed himself as far back into the little room as he could. Now he had to wait.

He cursed his misfortune; everything had been going so smoothly. Then he shook his head clear, forced himself to breathe regularly. It was like flying. The longer you did it, the greater your chance of something bad happening. He would just have to hope that the house’s most recent arrivals would have no need to make a deposit in the private bank he was now occupying.

Trust me, it just gets better from there. Like all of Baldacci’s books, Absolute Power has complicated relationships, great subplots, and an intense style that keeps you hooked to the end.

After graduating from law school at the University of Virginia, Baldacci practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C. Like most authors, he dabbled in writing while doing this, writing short stories and screenplays. When he didn’t have success with this, he decided to get serious and write a novel. He hit all the right buttons with Absolute Power, and has been writing good reads ever since.

I’ve read all of Baldacci’s books (except his children’s books), but my favorites are those with Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. I find these two characters interesting and their backstories compelling. They come together as disgraced Secret Service agents. First, the presidential candidate Sean is guarding during the campaign is killed after Sean quit watching him for a moment, and then, eight years later, Michelle’s charge enters a funeral parlor alone and is kidnapped. Sean contacts her and they begin their own investigation, which leads from two incidents to one cause.

I think The Sixth Man is my favorite in this series. The plot involves the two private investigators trying to clear an innocent man on death row. It’s nail-biting tension to the end, but there are also quick moments of humor and normalcy. Check this out:

One man, however, merely woke when the plane transitioned off the runway and onto the taxiway to the small terminal. The tall, dark‑haired woman sitting next to him idly stared out the window, completely unfazed by the turbulent approach and bouncy touch­down.

After they’d arrived at the gate and the pilot shut down the twin GE turbofans, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell rose and grabbed their bags from the overhead. As they threaded out through the narrow aisle along with the other deplaning passengers, a queasy-looking woman behind them said, “Boy, that sure was a rough landing.”

Sean looked at her, yawned, and massaged his neck. “Was it?”

The woman looked surprised and eyed Michelle. “Is he kidding?”

She said, “When you’ve ridden on jump seats in the belly of a C‑17 at low altitudes in the middle of a thunderstorm and doing thousand‑foot vertical drops every ten seconds with four max-armored vehicles chained next to you and wondering if one was going to break loose and crash through the side of the fuselage and carry you with it, this landing was pretty uneventful.”

“Why in the world did you do that?” said the wide‑eyed woman.

“I ask myself that every day,” replied Sean sardonically.

I really enjoy the ease with which Baldacci maintains suspense in his novels and the way his flawed characters are so sympathetic. They are real people you can identify with, but they’re also capable of extraordinary things. Though he has written several sets of books, his stand-alone novels are also very entertaining, including One Summer, the poignant story of life, death, and reunion with family.

He moves easily from mystery and murder and emotion and drama:

Jack Armstrong sat up in the secondhand hospital bed that had been wedged into a corner of the den in his home in Cleveland. A father at nineteen, he and his wife, Lizzie, had conceived their second child when he’d been home on leave from the army. Jack had been in the military for five years when the war in the Middle East started. He’d survived his first tour in Afghanistan and earned a Purple Heart for taking one in the arm. After that he’d weathered several tours of duty in Iraq, one of which included the destruction of his Humvee while he was still inside. That injury had won him his second Purple. And he had a bronze star on top of that for rescuing three ambushed grunts from his unit and nearly getting killed in the process. After all that, here he was, dying fast in his cheaply paneled den in Ohio’s Rust Belt.

His goal was simple: just hang on until Christmas. He sucked greedily on the oxygen coming from the line in his nose. The converter that stayed in the corner of the small room was on maximum production, and Jack knew that one day soon it would be turned off because he’d be dead. Before Thanksgiving he was certain he could last another month. Now Jack was not sure he could make another day.

But he would.

I have to.

In high school the six-foot-two, good-looking Jack had var­sity lettered in three sports, quarterbacked the football team, and had his pick of the ladies. But from the first time he’d seen Elizabeth “Lizzie” O’Toole, it was all over for him in the falling‑in‑love department. His heart had been won perhaps even before he quite realized it. His mouth curled into a smile at the memory of seeing her for the first time. Her family had come from South Carolina. Jack had often wondered why the O’Tooles had moved to Cleveland, where there was no ocean, a lot less sun, a lot more snow and ice, and not a palm tree in sight. Later, he’d learned it was because of a job change for Lizzie’s father.

She’d come into class that first day, tall, with long auburn hair and vibrant green eyes, her face already mature and lovely. They had started going together in high school and had never been separated since, except long enough for Jack to fight in two wars.

I wager you won’t be disappointed with any of Baldacci’s books. He also puts his money where his heart is, having created a foundation called Wish You Well Foundation, which provides funds to create or expand literacy programs. He bumped it up a notch in 2008 by partnering with Feeding America and creating Feeding Body and Mind. Baldacci believes giving the brain nourishment is every bit as important for those needing help as a good meal. I absolutely agree with him.

Treat yourself to something interesting and entertaining—a compelling story by David Baldacci.

Pick a book, any book. You’ll be glad you did!

Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, recently had a short story published in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and is a contributor to the blog WomenofMystery.net. She and her collaborator, Jan Powell, have a book, Second Nature by Neely Powell, coming out next spring.

Read all posts by Leigh Neely for Criminal Element.


  1. Lakis Fourouklas

    I have read all his books as well, and I agree that he’s a great writer. His dramas One Summer and Wish You Well are just as good as his thrillers, and in his last book The Forgotten he pulled the carpet under the feet of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character, by delivering one of his best novels yet, featuring an improved version of the latter.

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    Lovely essay. I, too, think Baldacci deserves high praise. His books never leave the reader disappointed.

Comments are closed.