Having established himself as the premiere writer of “conspiracy in high places” thrillers in 1996 with his first novel, Absolute Power, which was made into a hit movie starring Clint Eastwood, David Baldacci has now written over 20 novels and remains the master of that subgenre. In The Innocent, the author remains at the top of his game.
Baldacci’s success lies in an ability to build plots and create characters that in lesser hands would seem like the fringe conspiracy theorist’s best bad dream. But Baldacci makes the story and the characters seem all too plausible and, seemingly, with some kind of prescience, topical and ripped from the headlines.
Will Robie is a case in point. He is a veteran assassin for a shady, unnamed U.S. Government agency and he roams the world at his master’s bidding eliminating targets as ordered with deadly efficiency. It’s a character and plot that would require the mainstream reader to suspend belief and accept them as entertainment, but with the recent dearth of assassinations of Al-Qaida leaders, Iranian nuclear scientists, etcetera, they become realistic. Baldacci is a master at this kind of story.
Fresh from two assignments to eliminate, presumably, just such enemies of America abroad, Robie is now on a mission closer to home in and around the nation’s capital. Armed with a dossier of the intended enemy’s photo, address, and biography of daily movements and habits, he has developed a plan approved by his handler and supported by backup personnel who make sure the needed weapons, information, and support services are readily at hand.
He doesn’t need to know the sins of the person, great or small. Robie leaves passing judgment to his superiors. He is only the executioner. Cold blooded and unemotional. He has operated this way for over a decade, and though oft times the condemned is an enemy of notorious reputation, just as often they are unknown to the world at large as a threat. Robie just dispatches them as efficiently as a lethal injection and as detached and dispassionate as a high-powered bullet fired on a battlefield.
Until now. With the voice of his handler guiding his every step and watching, from a distance, his back, Robie gains entry to the apartment building with the ease of a cat burglar. He makes child’s play of the locks to the apartment. He sneaks undetected to the victims bedroom, he IDs the target and then, silenced pistol at hand and aimed, he hesitates. He’s not quite sure why he hesitates in the completion of this execution. Is it because the condemned is a woman? But he has had to execute women before. Did he suddenly develop a conscious? He believes in his mission, however, as distasteful and non-P.C.as it may play out to the media. Is it the unusual anxiety of his handler? But he has been on tense assignments before when his was the only cool hand on site.
Perhaps it is the unlikely location of the enemy in a quiet Washington D.C. suburb that wouldn’t seem the hideout of a public enemy. Perhaps it is the child, obviously the woman’s son, in bed with the target. But he still could have soundlessly dispatched her to oblivion and the child is young enough to where he would soon forget and heal from the trauma. Nonetheless, for the first time ever, Robie hesitates. His handler frantically calling for him to complete the assignment, urges him on in a near-panicked voice, but still Robie hesitates and then the child awakens and the intended victim stirs. Robie does the unthinkable–if hesitating is unthinkable, then this action is doubly so. He attempts to save the condemned, but her reprieve is short-lived as a sniper’s bullet pierces the window killing her and the child with one high velocity round.