I havenít read Baldacciís previous Special Agent John Puller novels, but since the protagonist goes off the reservation for this one, I thought Iíd give it a try. It wasnít a particularly satisfying endeavor.
When John Pullerís father receives a letter from his elderly sister, commenting that something is amiss in Paradise, Florida, Puller decides to make a much-delayed visit and ascertain that there is no reason for concern. Arriving at his auntís home, Puller discovers that she has died of natural causes, though there was not a thorough investigation.
Making the acquaintance of the local small police force and chatting with his auntís friendly neighbor, Puller has no facts to base his opinion on but remains vaguely suspicious about the circumstances of Betsy Puller Simonís death. He takes a room away from the pristineóand pricyóbeach area, noticing neighborhood activity that includes gang bangers and the usual street crimes common to a low-income community. Adjusting to civilian circumstances without the comforts of his usual investigative mode, Puller is aware of another man, a large stranger, staying at the same motel. He files away the information for future reference.
As Puller tracks the minutiae of his auntís recent activities, another plot unfolds, one that parallels Pullerís actions. The stranger has recently escaped a boatload of passengers delivered to the Florida coast not far from Paradise in the dark of night. Evading the guns of his captors, the man has found anonymity in the immigrant community and become employed on the estate of a wealthy man as a gardener. As he goes about his work, this nameless man observes the estate carefully, noting visitors and important details.
Meanwhile, Puller learns of other disturbing events in Paradise, including the murder of a local couple on the beach, their bodies later washed ashore. And soon after their meeting, his auntís neighbor is found dead as well, his death more than suspicious. Bit by bit the plot evolves, pieces gleaned from what Puller discovers about people around his aunt and the troubling carelessness of the police, save one female officer who is willing to assist him. He reaches out to his Washington contacts (including a one-star general) when he realizes that he is being followed by military types.
Eventually the action of both Puller and the stranger bring them face to face, confronting an enemy who is the source of all the trouble in Paradise, from Betsy Puller Simonís death to the disappearance of two children from the neighborhood around Pullerís motel. With the unexpected resources of the stranger and a one-star general ostensibly on vacation but there to assist Puller, the forces of good confront the forces of evil, exposing a criminal enterprise lurking beneath the facade of privilege, where wealth and opportunity shield a monster from the law and the questions of those awed by power.
With his usual attention to plot and detail, Baldacci scores another one for the intrepid Puller, but for all the outrageóand the legitimate plight of the disenfranchised of the world (the ďForgottenĒ)óthere is no passion in this story. The dialog between Puller and his lady friend from Washington is painful to read, stilted and awkward. Baldacci only comes to life in the action scenes with the manly stuff, rescuing the helpless and saving the day, etc. If this series is familiar, you will probably enjoy The Forgotten, but if you liked the legal thrillers of the authorís earlier career, Paradise is not on the coast of Florida.