Total Control by David Baldacci

September 25, 2009

total-control I’ve been listening to a lot of crime/thriller novels recently because I like the mindless entertainment of these types of books. They’re perfect for accompanying my workouts at the gym, as I don’t have to focus intently on them or listen to every single word in order to keep up with the story. I’ve found a lot of new (to me) authors this way, including David Baldacci.

I enjoyed both Split Second and The Simple Truth sufficiently enough to want to continue listening to his books on CD. So the last time I was at the library, I picked up 1998’s Total Control, which was the second novel Baldacci published. Let’s just say that he has definitely gotten better over the years!

Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The novel opens with a description of a devastating airplane crash that claims the lives of hundreds of passengers. Among them was Arthur Lieberman, the head of the Federal Reserve Board. Also listed on the passenger manifesto was Jason Archer, a high-level software analyst for tech giant Triton Global. This is devastating news to Sidney Archer, the wife he left behind.

Sidney barely has time to grieve, however, as the FBI, led by agent Lee Sawyer, soon come knocking on her door. Preliminary evidence suggests that Jason was the one who orchestrated the plane bombing, and now the feds want to know why. Sidney can’t believe it because the husband she knew would never do a thing like that. Then again, Jason had been acting strangely in the past few weeks, and had lied to her about getting a job offer in Los Angeles. Maybe there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Sidney then receives a phone call that will change her life forever. It’s from Jason, who hadn’t been on the doomed plane after all. He can’t talk to her very long, but he’s able to deliver a cryptic message that sends Sidney to New Orleans. From there, Sidney starts to put her own investigation together in order to clear Jason’s name — as well as her own — so she can get her life back on track.

My Reaction: Total Control was a longish novel that started out with a bang, but then petered out and seemed to drag on and on to its conclusion. The plane crash was memorable and of course brought up a lot of questions. I then assumed that Jason Archer was going to be the main character, since the focus shifted to him almost immediately. I then assumed that I would be treated to a Mission: Impossible type of scenario, where Jason was actually a secret agent or something.

But no. Jason quickly faded out of the picture (for reasons that were explained at the end) and Sidney and Lee Sawyer took over. Neither of those characters was half as interesting as Jason was, even though he was front and center for such a short period of time. Plus, since Sidney was absolutely clueless about what was really going on, the reader was also left in the dark about plot developments. Baldacci did not do a good job of sprinkling clues along the way to tease the reader into continuing along. There was no sense of urgency in the plot, and nothing about the nefarious plan was revealed until the usual talking head scene with the bad guy at the very end. This was not exactly a page-turner, folks.

I guess that was my biggest problem with the book: there was just zero suspense along the way. Usually in books like this, the characters express their own theories about what might be happening, and that gives the reader a chance to reason through things as well. That didn’t happen very much here. When it did, the scheme, the reasons for taking the plane down were so convoluted that it really made little sense.

Overall, Total Control wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, considering that it’s from David Baldacci. I’ll still read other stuff from him, but maybe I’ll stick to later works from now on. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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