In this follow-up to Split Second, former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell return to find Maxwell entertaining a death wish as she begins exhibiting more signs of self destructive behavior culminating in picking a near fatal bar fight. Despite his best efforts, King is unable to do more then provide monetary assistance and with resources stretched to the limit, he seeks employment from his ex-girlfriend. After seeing Maxwell safety tucked into a psychiatric treatment program under the care of long time friend Horatio Barnes, King takes a lucrative assignment investigating the death of a think tank scientist at Baggage Town, located across the York River from Camp Peary.
From the start, King finds nothing but stonewalling and hostility as he attempts to figure out what happened to the victim, what the staff of Baggage Town are working on that could stop the world in its tracks and what a gifted but mentally handicapped little girl knows about her father’s death. More deaths, an attempt on King’s life and threats by the FBI and CIA make him more determined to ferret out the truth. Meanwhile, Maxwell continues living in denial, brushing off Barnes efforts to treat her as she keeps busy investigating a creepy orderly stalking the halls at odd hours. Eventually Maxwell cracks the case, checks herself out of the institution and comes to the assistance of her partner who could certainly use the backup. Together they uncover a twisted plot involving drugs, murder, hidden treasure and absolute power gone terribly wrong.
Although the characters are well developed, much of their behavior seems fairly canned as do the main plot points, which lack the expected zinger twist ending. One wonders what kind of practice Dr. Barnes has that allows him to leave at the drop of a hat but his involvement does add an interesting layer to the story. Although Baldacci’s latest offering is a bit pedestrian, fans will enjoy seeing King and Maxwell again. Puzzle aficionados and treasure hunters won’t want to miss the Beale Cipher located at the end but be sure to read the book first as there are several spoilers mixed in with the author’s notes.