Before reading any of his books, I was all set to become a David Baldacci cheerleader. With twelve New York Times bestsellers to his name, 50 million books sold in 80 countries, plus glowing press and reader reviews, he seemed an ideal candidate for my pantheon of favourite authors. Then I started reading The Collectors
With a mixture of disappointment and disbelief, I ploughed through page after page, hoping that at some point it would turn into a thriller. But, far from the diamond-sharp dialogue and pacesetting plot I’d been expecting, the book turned out to be as thrilling as a damp dishcloth.
The main story surrounds an investigation by a group of conspiracy theorists into a death at the Library of Congress in Washington. Elsewhere, a gang of con-artists sets out to relieve a notorious mobster of his fortune. These plots intertwine and the rest of the book unravels the consequences.
So far, so good. But right from the start Baldacci’s clunky writing gets in the way of the story. In his world, people don’t just say things. They say them “bitterly”, “solemnly“, "eagerly", "breathlessly", or even "matter-of-factly". This outbreak of adverbs is profoundly annoying, but it’s by no means the only problem with The Collectors.
The paper-thin characters are a mixture of the unremarkable and the unbelievable. Baldacci may have intended con-artiste Annabelle Conroy to come across as a clever and classy broad with a will of steel and a heart of gold. But before too long, I was tiring of this James Bond in tights. The reader is meant to gasp in wonder at her skullduggery and subterfuge as she takes the mean and the greedy for a ride. But how can we admire a character whose actions lead to the innocent getting killed? Or are we supposed to dismiss these casualties as collateral damage?
Meanwhile, the group of conspiracy theorists, known as the Camel Club, owe more to Hanna-Barbera than to Hitchcock. They’re not so much amateur detectives as shamateur defectives. Led by Oliver Stone (I kid you not), these misfits bumble their way across Washington with all the finesse of a herd of elephants on roller skates. Especially irritating is Caleb Shaw, the wimpy librarian. Baldacci gets exactly no prizes for fishing him out from the dressing-up box of tired old stereotypes.