I’m always on the lookout for different, established authors to read, so when a friend of mine recommended David Baldacci, a man who has published 15 novels to date (many of them bestsellers), I decided to give his works a try. Since I wasn’t familiar with any of the titles, I just selected The Simple Truth at random.
Published in 1998, The Simple Truth was based on an event that actually happened, which tends to make things more interesting for me. Moreover, President Bill Clinton selected the novel as his favorite of the year — an endorsement that I thought would count for something.
Alas, once I finished The Simple Truth, I realized it was just a run-of-the-mill thriller that didn’t impress me a whole heck of a lot.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Michael Fiske is a bright, gifted young attorney who has spent the last three years clerking for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. One of the strategies Mike uses to separate himself from the rest of the clerks is to arrive at the court early and sift through unread appeals in the mail room to get a bead on any cases he thinks the justices would want to hear. The day he finds an appeal from a convict named Rufus Harms is the day his life changes forever.
Harms is currently serving a life sentence in a Richmond military prison for murdering a little girl 25 years ago. But he recently received a letter from the Army that could prove his innocence. Though the contents of the letter are not revealed to the reader early on, it’s clear that some powerful people would be compromised if the letter was made public. In fact, Mike is so blown away by the letter that he smuggles it out of the court (a felony), and tries to verify the claims by visiting Harms in prison.
Within an hour of leaving the prison after seeing Harms, Mike is murdered and the scene is doctored to make it look like a robbery gone bad. His estranged brother John comes out to identify the body, and in the process meets Sara Evans, a colleague of Mike’s at the court — and an ex-flame. Sara knew that Mike was working on something big in the days leading up to his death. She shares this info with John, and the two start thinking that maybe robbery wasn’t the real motive after all.
From that point forward, John and Sara team up to conduct their own investigation into Mike’s death and the Rufus Harms case. Along the way, John and Sara manage to get into several life-threatening situations, fall in love with each other, and put the pieces of the puzzle together before the bad guys add them to the growing body count comprised of people involved in the case.
My Reaction: Although The Simple Truth wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be and doesn’t stand up to a close examination of the plot, I nevertheless thought it was an engrossing read. At least the pacing was quick, with very few distractions (besides the utterly dreadful romance aspect) to slow things down.
I have to say that I was disappointed when Mike Fiske was killed off so early in the action. He seemed to be the most interesting character in the whole book, so I didn’t like having to switch off and focus on John — dull and annoying by comparison — instead. Although John improved a bit as the story progressed, I never fully warmed to him as the protagonist.
As far as the plot itself, I appreciated the fact that there were lots of twists, turns, and surprises throughout the narrative to keep the action flowing. Even though 90 percent of the twists were unbelievable or highly coincidental, at least the author made an attempt to spice things up. Sure, the mounting body count became laughable after a while (were the conspirators really just going to kill everyone that ever crossed their paths?), but things could have been worse, I suppose.
The only plot development I could have done without was the whole John and Sara hookup. Never mind that she made her movies the day Mike’s body was identified or that she went from brother to brother. True, those points were dumb, but they didn’t bother me as much as the fact that Sara and John ended up in bed together within, what, 24 hours of meeting each other?
I hate it when writers do this. God, would anyone really act that way in the midst of a murder investigation? Especially when the victim was your brother or the man who asked you to marry him? Why do authors seem to think that every single novel needs a “romance” component? Yes, sex sells, but isn’t that what the Harlequin section is for?
On the whole, The Simple Truth was a decent read. It didn’t turn me into an instant David Baldacci fan, but at least I’m still open to trying more of his novels in the future. If you’re looking to get into Baldacci’s works, I wouldn’t start with this one!