The Winner by David Baldacci

October 20, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): LuAnn Tyler is a 20-year-old single mother with a dead-end job at a truck stop diner, a deadbeat drug-dealing boyfriend, and absolutely no prospects for improving her life. Then one day she receives a mysterious phone call inviting her to a job interview. The caller doesn’t say much, except that the job will pay at least $100 per day and last about two weeks. That’s enough of a draw for LuAnn, so she agrees to an appointment.

At the appointment, LuAnn senses that things aren’t quite on the up-and-up. The “office” doesn’t look functional and there’s only one other employee there. The interviewer, Mr. Jackson, soon concedes that there isn’t really a job involved. Instead, he has a much bigger proposition: He will guarantee that LuAnn will win the next National Lottery jackpot of $100 million. All she has to do is agree to a few conditions, which he will spell out upon acceptance.

LuAnn senses that it can’t be legal, and as she goes home to think about it for the night, she has pretty much made up her mind to decline. But upon arrival back at the trailer, she sees that someone has killed her boyfriend in an apparent drug deal gone bad. The intruder is still there, and comes after LuAnn — who defends herself by smacking the guy in the head with a phone. The man falls to the ground, and LuAnn thinks he’s dead.

Unable to think of how to save herself and baby Lisa from what might happen when the cops arrive, LuAnn decides to accept Jackson’s offer. She buys a lottery ticket and wins — just as he said she would. He furnishes a fake identity so LuAnn can escape the country with Lisa, even though the cops are looking for her. And then the conditions kick in, which pretty much amount to letting Jackson manage and invest the principal for 10 years while earning a return of anywhere from 25 to 40 percent. Oh, and not coming back to the U.S., like, ever.

Of course, for some stupid reason, LuAnn can’t stay out of the country. She returns 10 years later, causing all kinds of problems for herself and Lisa — all of which could have been easily avoided. Fortunately, she meets a swell guy named Matt Riggs who helps her get the best of both Jackson and the FBI and ride off into the sunset as if no laws had ever been broken.

Liked:

  • This had the makings of a very cool story. The lottery fix was interesting, and Jackson was unlike any villain I’ve ever encountered in a book before. But alas, Baldacci flubbed the execution.
  • I thought Thomas Donovan’s bankruptcy angle was brilliant. I had no idea that lottery winners typically file for bankruptcy at a 75 percent rate — and apparently, neither did Jackson. When there was a string of 12 consecutive winners that did not file (i.e. all of Jackson’s chosen ones), then the reporter Donovan knew there had to be a story there.

Disliked:

  • LuAnn was not a likable character at all. She seemed too whiny most of the time, and had the attributes I despise most in book characters: incredible strength and indestructibility. OMG, it is such a pet peeve of mine when civilian women (we’re not talking G.I. Jane or a bodybuilder here) are supposed to be soooo strong that they can beat up powerful men in what amounts to hand-to-hand combat. Give me a break.
  • How INCREDIBLY STUPID was it of LuAnn to come back to the United States??? Her excuse was that she wanted to give Lisa a real home instead of moving around so much or living out of hotels. Well, what is wrong with setting up permanent residence in England, Australia, New Zealand, or even Canada??? All of those are English-speaking countries where she could have gotten along just fine. I’m sure Lisa would have been content in a cozy home with a white picket fence, regardless of whether the home was in Sydney or in Tennessee. I just cannot fathom why that woman would come back to America and risk Jackson finding her.
  • To solidify her position as one of the dumbest heroines in a thriller, LuAnn continued to STAY in the States after Thomas Donovan confronted her with her real name! She turned into Katherine Savage the day after she won the lottery in order to facilitate her escape, and had been living under that identity for 10 years. Then someone tracks her down out of the blue, calls her LuAnn Tyler, refers to the murders of 10 years ago…. and LuAnn just stays there???!!! I would have been on the next plane right back out of the country.
  • What a coincidence that Donovan happened to be dating Jackson’s sister. WTF was that all about? Why was that connection even necessary? It wasn’t, which is why it stands out as just another ludicrous occurrence in the book.
  • I absolutely hated the fact that LuAnn not only avoided jail time but also absconded with her original $100 million principal. She broke the law, plain and simple, and should not have had anything to show for it. Yeah, I can understand avoiding jail time, I guess, but she should not have had all that money left.

Rating:
I know a book like The Winner by David Baldacci is meant to be read for pure escapism rather than for a realistic look at how a massive crime might be pulled off. Believe me, I had every intent of reading it that way, but many of the plot points are so ridiculous as to be impossible not to notice. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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