The Target – David Baldacci
The third Will Robie book. I read the first, and seem to recall enjoying it. Having skipped the second, I now wish I would have read that one before picking this one up. There are too many references to that story here, and I feel as though the details were so detailed in places, that it essentially spoiled the reading if I ever did decide to pick up #2.
That fact aside, I still really didn’t enjoy this book that much. This, sadly, tends to be a pattern for me with Baldacci. He seems good coming up with ‘big’ plots, but when he’s forced to write about detail, such as two people talking to each other, his weaknesses are really apparent. There’s just too much here that is contrived, forced, and unbelievable.
Robie is a tough, macho CIA agent that is assigned top level clandestine missions for only the very best. Apparently, he became entangled with co-agent Jessica Reel in the second book. She’s just as good as Robie, but being female, she seems to have a rather large chip on her shoulder and seems to swagger her machismo a bit much. In fact, this book seemed to be more about her than Robie. Apparently in Book 2, the two “did the right thing” but didn’t “follow orders” on a crucial mission. So now the CIA wants to get rid of them (i.e. kill them), but the duo is too high profile and too good, so the CIA has to suck up their bravado and put up with these two misfits. Again, the dialogue between all parties is pretty stupid.
Anyway, the main story here is pretty decent. Robie and Reel are initially called in to help orchestrate a coup in North Korea, but things go a bit wrong, tables are turned and some of the particulars get changed. We then focus on a female North Korean agent who’s being recruited to retaliate against the Americans. Her story is pretty interesting, and I found the chapters detailing her plight to be the most entertaining. Had Baldacci focused on this aspect throughout the whole book, it could have been a much more satisfying read.
Well, I’m guessing that when Baldacci finished this story, he only had about 275 out of the required (?) 400 pages written. Since he couldn’t milk the story any more, he basically inserts a second story within these pages that is completely unnecessary, stupid, and contrived (why do I always use that word when reviewing Baldacci?). This subplot involves a dying old prisoner on death row, some fanatical Neo-Nazis, and Jessica Reel’s past. This portion of the book should have been left in the garbage. It’s completely stupid and unnecessary. There really isn’t anything wrong with a 275-page book, you know. Less would have definitely been more in this case.
Even the ‘main’ story had some issues of unbelievability. At one point, Robie and Reel have to infiltrate a prison camp in the heart of North Korea. The way Balcacci describes the event, it seems about as difficult as driving on the freeway during rush hour. The whole incident takes up about half a chapter. This could have been fleshed out more and made the story much more enjoyable.
Often when a person dislikes a book by an author they enjoy, they’ll state things in reviews such as “I’m convinced that (this author) had nothing to do with this book! It must have been ghost written by someone else!” Well, sadly, I’ve read a lot of subpar books by Baldacci to know that the things that made this book somewhat unenjoyable have also been present in some of his other clunkers. In fact, I really think he SHOULD try co-writing with someone else. Someone who can write simple, believable scenes - like when two characters have a conversation with each other.