Sunday, May 09, 2010

Book Review: Deliver us from Evil by David Baldacci

As I prepared for a couple of short roadtrips it was time to use an audible credit and download a new audiobook. As luck would have it there in my "recommendations" was a brand new David Baldacci novel "Deliver Us From Evil"! There wasn't even a question - I'd found my next listen!

David Baldacci's novels have never let me down. His works are consistently entertaining with a few twists and turns that keep readers engaged. Ron McLarty's narration is equally consistent, capable and a pleasant listen. For the most part "Deliver Us From Evil" lived up to those expectations.

The first few hours of the novel were a bit hard to sort out - perhaps this was due to my fragmented listening time (an hour here, fourty-five minutes there, etc) or it was the result of the plot starting out needlessly slow - Mr. Baldacci's novels often start out slowly. To some extent I had that familiar feeling that there were a couple of hours of extra material that wasn't relevant to the rest of the plot, but I also don't think that there's a full seven hours of material to pull out (as in the abridged version). Several months ago I listened to the abridged version of David Baldacci's "Simple Genius" and I wasn't happy with that version as I felt like the plot never got developed. For this reason I recommend the unabridged version of "Deliver Us From Evil" - and the unabridged version of any Baldacci novel.

To help clarify those first few hours, it helps to know that there are three main character groups (not a spoiler): Reggie/Janie's group of do-good vigilantes that track down bad-guys (Nazis and other initiators of genocide and crimes against humanity), confront them with the details of their sins and then kill them - typically in ways that don't arose suspicion. Fresh off the murder of a 96 year old Nazi in South America, Reggie's team sets their sights on Feder Kuchin a former Soviet era military leader - responsible for mass genocide and other atrocities in the Ukraine - Kuchin is now known as Evan Waller and makes his large fortune importing and selling young asian women into sexual slaver and selling enriched uranium to terrorist organizations - all the while ruling his empire with a mafia-like iron hand. In summary, Waller/Kuchin is a pretty miserable human being.

Then there is Shaw - seemingly a member of a secret government (ours) agency - though this point is really never revealed - just that his agency and Reggie's band of vigilantes have a common mission: to exterminate Waller. Shaw and Reggie end up in Gourd (France) together - suspicious of each other, yet distracted from their larger missions. It's quite a while before "Janie" (Reggie) and "Bill Young" (Shaw) realize that the other is not quite what they appear to be - and even longer before it's clear that they are on the same side of the evil that is Evan Waller.

In typical Baldacci fashion, it "feels" like the story is about to wrap up at the half-way point of the novel - only to be thwarted by one thing (or another) and the drama continues through the rest of the novel. Who is the informant that is helping from the inside of Waller's organization. Who can be trusted - who can't?

On a very serious note: There were torture scenes in this novel that were just overly barbaric and graphic - a couple of these scenes detracted from the rest of the story because they were so graphic. I won't go so far as to say that I was offended - but it was needlessly violent. Anyone reading or listening to this book is going to understand that Evan Waller (FederKuchen) is an awful human and a brutal man - reports of his past atrocities were very clearly stated in the beginning of the novel. To describe in detail how Evan Waller first inserts (and then breaks) a glass vial in a sensitive male location and then in similar detail skinning a man with a vegetable peeler is just brutal - and truly unnecessary. There's ZERO plot value to describing this torture. If I had been reading the novel I would have skipped over these chapters - however listening to this book on my Garmin while driving my only option was to either pull over and fast forward through 20 minutes of torture (not easy to find a safe spot in a narrow two-lane road in the middle of nowhere) or to keep switching over to my MP3 CD and hope that the torture bits would be finished by the time I toggled back. It of course WASN'T and I found myself twisting uncomfortably in my seat as the graphic content continued. We all know those otherwise funny movies that throw in random scenes of explicit content that end up detracting from the quality of the rest of the film - the same concept here and I very much expect more from Mr. Baldacci.

Deliver us from Evil is not Mr. Baldacci's best work, but if you like the genre or already a Baldacci fan it's worth a listen (read). I do suspect though that Mr. Baldacci has gone the way of James Patterson and that much of this novel (and perhaps some other more recent writings) were penned by ghost writers. The author's voice is different now - this doesn't detract from the plot or the writing - but it's not entirely what I expect to hear based on Mr. Baldacci's previous works. That observation coupled with the accelerated publishing schedule of his works does not alter my opinion.

David Baldacci's "Deliver us from Evil" is published by Hachette Audio and is narrated by Ron McLarty. The unabridged version of Deliver Us From Evil has a running length of 14 hours 5 Minutes, the abridged version has a running time of 6 hours 13 minutes. Both titles were released on April 20th, 2010. "Deliver Us from Evil" is available from Amazon and Audible.com. This review is based on the unabridged audio book.

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