Split Second Prologue & Chapter 1


Having had my fill of “young adult” fiction and those hacks—mostly I’m just sick of Zoey—I figured a sort of break was in order. Not a break from recapping, just a break from the self-indulgent wish fulfillment vampire porn that PCK pays the bills with. So I decided to tackle something both adult and not fantasy/science fiction. I think we all remember my experiment with that awful hybrid of the two and don’t want a repeat of that.

So I dallied until the last minute, trying to find a sufficiently bad, yet readable, book that deserved a jab in the side with a spork. And wouldn’t you know it but a single name came to me, David Baldacci. See, I once read one of his books, Hour Game, some years back when it came out in paperback. I can even remember my thought process when I bought it. ‘Hmm.  Bestseller you say and it’s actiony? Surely this can’t be bad!’ And I was wrong. So I grabbed the first in that series and here we are.

We begin with the title. I don’t mean the raised lettering on the front with a bullet dashing through the air. Though, now that I mention it, I probably should focus on it. If you go to Amazon You can see what I’m talking about. The artist chose to depict not a bullet but a full on cartridge flying through the air. That’s how guns work, right? They fire the thing you put in it and not the little bit of metal at the end of them. That would just be silly all around. This is the kind of artist that puts fire coming out of the exhaust pipe because, duh, cars burn gas. And we all know burning makes flames.

Anywho, we also have the book title right in the very first sentence.

It only took a split second, although to Secret Service agent Sean King it seemed like the longest split second ever.

This is one of those things that’s incredibly common in “thrillers”, or whatever the hell action novels bill themselves as these days, but you don’t have to have the title in the book somewhere. If your title is “Absolute Domination Warplan” you don’t have to make a character say it. It’s actually cleverer if you don’t, Baldacci, but continuing on…

Sean is a Secret Service agent and he’s protecting some politician who doesn’t get a description. They’re apparently out in the “boonies” where they don’t have much service aside from sat phones. Being as the prologue is set in ’96, this is entirely plausible. Sean is watching his faceless politician, Clyde Ritter, shake hands and kiss babies while trying not to have a panic attack. He says that a proffered baby could easily conceal a gun until the last minute.

Maybe that’s an East Coast thing but I’ve been to meet and greets with Senators and I’ve never seen them actually kiss a baby. I always thought that was more of an idiom that summed up a politician’s efforts to go out and make nice with the public.

Sean, or King as Baldacci refers to him, looks over and sees something. Something so indescribably enrapturing that we’re not told what it is. Just that his attention stays there for too long and then there’s a bang and Sean can feel moisture on his hand. He looks and notices that some of his middle finger is missing and that Clyde is bleeding before he falls to the ground.

Chaos ensues and Sean takes a moment to focus on the assassin as he runs at him. The man actually gets a description, as opposed to Sean’s charge, and is still holding a S&W .44 at where Clyde was standing. Apparently this assassin watched a boatload of vintage Eastwood movies and decided that a long rifle kill was the coward’s way.

Sean says that he pointed his pistol at the man without warning or advising him of his constitutional rights. Which is silly, because he doesn’t have to be. He shoots and the man goes down without a fight. Then we’re told how three people actually died that day, the politician, the assassin and Sean but the other two had is easy because they got buried. Seans carreer is over because he let it happen and blah blah blah, very dramatic backstory for our protagonist.

Chapter 1

…takes place eight years later. Which takes us to roughly the present time of the book’s publication in the far off year of ’04. There’s a motorcade going up to a funeral home and Baldacci rolls out a few clichés including an old man whittlin’ on a bench. He looks up and grins and has tobacco stained teeth. Any second now a couple of men wearing only overalls with one strap will come prancing in barefoot and begin blowing on a jug.

Let’s see, there’s a woman wearing a pantsuit in her early thirties. She’s following a tall man and is, presumably, another protagonist as the author is spending time talking about her gun. Apparently her belt holster used to chafe so she sewed in an extra layer of cloth to all of her shirts to prevent that. Ok, I guess you could do that or learn to carry properly. But if you’d rather spend a few hours sewing extra bits onto your shirts, by all means.

She says she heard some men “joke”—in this universe joke means something stupid that stops people from laughing—that all women agents should wear double shoulder holsters so they look “buxom” without “breast enchancements”. Look, Baldacci. If you’re going to set the scene and have crude, boorish men making juvenile comments, feel free to have it written like that. How about quoting one of them? ‘They should wear double shoulder holsters so their tits aren’t so flat’ or something. It sets the tone a little better.

We finally get a name for this protagonist, Michelle Maxwell. Did you read comics when you were a kid, Baldacci? She’s on the fast track to presidential guard detail after only nine years in the field or so the narrator tells us. Let me guess, she’s going to be the spunky go getter, fighting a cartoonishly sexist agency while the plot goes on. That’s how we’ll know Sean is a good guy, because he looks past her sex while everyone else laughs at her because she’s a girl.

Michelle is protecting a politician named John Bruno and Bladacci takes great pains to tell us he’s a good guy. He’s an independent, looks young, used to be a prosecutor and made a lot of enemies behind bars. Let’s see, conservative policies on the economy but liberal policies for the poor. I’m surprised he’s not dressed as a Teddy bear and offering everyone free hugs because he’s so darn likable. I wish Baldacci had spent this much time talking about Sean’s charge, Clyde.

Bruno—Baldacci has that annoying habit of having his characters go by last names—argues with Maxwell. He doesn’t want anyone to go in with him to mourn. She argues back and he pushes the matter until she’s gives in. They compromise by sweeping the room and then letting Bruno go in alone. He kneels with the deceased’s widow and offers his condolences. Then he says there was something else she wanted to talk to him about and what was it?

In answer she placed a hand on his cheek, and then her fingers touched his neck. Bruno grimaced as he felt the sharp prick against his skin, and then he slipped to the floor unconscious.

Dun dun dunnn! Only I don’t think it’ll be so dramatic when we find out he’s still alive. Baldacci strikes me as an author who wouldn’t have given us a quick backstory like that if he wasn’t important to the story. You know, the way he had Clyde die unceremoniously without the slightest adjective spared for him.

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