A hit and miss

A hit and miss

In his latest installation of thrills, and the second story to feature government assassin Will Robie, writer David Baldacci offers all the promise of notching up the ante. On the surface, his locales are rich and echo the pulp exoticism of the thrillers of the late 70s and the 80s, assuring wondrous sojourns and ever more fantastic action in New York City, Washington DC, Canada and the Middle East. But wait, those locations are nothing new. One could call them stale, unless of course Baldacci had included the travails of navigating the Bronx. Now, there is a better story.

But granted, one does not read a thriller to capture the beat of cities or countries. They have travel guides for that. The point is that while Baldacci had so many choices and could have potentially weaved a truly terse and hard-hitting novel — even with the limiting canvas he has setup for himself — what he ultimately settles for is The Hit, a pedantic, overwrought, under-written excuse for a novel.

The story revolves around the ordeal of Will Robie, an assassin for the United States government, and his one-dimensional mission to open envelopes, read directives and dispatch foes of the United States with extreme prejudice. He lives in a world of shadows; except, not so much. His first hit against a target, a so-called “monster” in New York’s Central Park, raises a major question: What was a notorious criminal or terrorist doing jogging in the middle of New York with a retinue of bodyguards? But even before these questions can be answered, more appear. For a secret agent, Robie’s life is unusually open. Within hours of the assassination, he has the FBI beating down his door, convinced he is the killer. His phone is tapped and he is the subject of 24-hour surveillance. So thin is Robie’s cover that one must ask if he is not only the worst assassin in the CIA, but also the government’s only one.

The story takes a tangent after Robie receives orders to terminate a rogue US operative named Jessica Reel. From here, the story attempts to take one dizzying turn after the next. In parts, it resembles a textual form of an action comic; the only difference being that instead of writing for teenagers, Baldacci chooses to weave farce for adults.

When I think of the sheer elegance and attention to plotting paid by masters of the genre such as Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler or Frederick Forsythe, it makes me want to tear my hair out in anguish at the pedestrian style employed by Baldacci. Three-tenths of every chapter, and there 84 of them, are dedicated to a rehash of the last chapter — as if they were television episodes. Perhaps Mr Baldacci has his eye on a mini-series.

It is difficult to see why this story was written. Perhaps it was because of contractual obligations or perhaps Mr Baldacci needed the money, trading in the bankability of his name for a payoff. This book may sell well, scraping by to enter the bestseller lists, but as literature, it is questionable. As a door-stop, however, it is invaluable.

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