First Family, David Baldacci (Grand Central)

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The latest Sean King–Michelle Maxwell thriller is pretty much a guaranteed best-seller. The story begins soon after a young girl’s birthday party. The girl, who happens to be the First Lady’s niece, is abducted from her home, and her mother is murdered. Much to the consternation of the Secret Service and the FBI, the First Lady hires Sean and Michelle (who are former Secret Service agents themselves) to find out who’s behind the abduction and discover why the kidnappers apparently siphoned off some of the girl’s mother’s blood and took that with them, too. Sean and Michelle, surely one of the more interesting teams of private investigators (especially since Michelle is now dealing with some very nasty personal demons), are baffled to learn that the girl’s abduction has connections to an old Alabama plantation and its wealthy but distinctly off-putting and possibly deranged owner. Baldacci has come quite a long way from his early thrillers, such as Absolute Power (1996) and Total Control (1997). He’s a more subtle writer now, able to tell stories of deep moral ambiguity and to create characters who balance on the line between hero and villain. His whimsy and satire, highly evident in the Camel Club novels, are appropriately scaled back here: this is a more serious novel—more frightening and certainly more shocking. It will be fascinating to watch where he takes these two heroes from here.

This review originally appeared in Booklist, April 2009.

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