Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Simple Genius

Simple Genius by David Baldacci

In a world of secrets, human genius is power.

And sometimes it is simply deadly...

A three-hour drive from Washington, D.C., two clandestine institutions face each other across a heavily guarded river. One is the world's most unusual laboratory, whose goals and funding are a mystery. The other is an elite CIA training camp shrouded in secrecy. Now a man and a woman are about to run a gauntlet between these two puzzle factories, straight into a furious struggle to exploit a potentially world-shattering discovery--and keep some other secrets underwraps forever...

Former secret service agents turned private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have seen their lives splinter around them. Michelle lies unconscious in a hospital bed after a night of suicidal violence. And Sean is forced to take on a thankless investigation into the murder of a scientist just inside the CIA's razor-wire fence near Williamsburg, Virginia.

Soon he is uncovering layer after layer of disinformation that shields a stunning world filled with elite mathematics, physicists, war heroes, spies, and deadly field agents. Amid more murder, a seemingly autistic girl's extraordinary genius, and a powerful breakthrough in the realm of classified codes, Sean soon learns enough to put his life at risk. Now more than ever, he needs Michelle--at her best--to help stop a conspiracy of traitors operating in the shadow of the White House itself.

From Michelle's courageous struggle to defeat her long-buried personal demons to a
centuries-old secret that surfaces in the heat of action, SIMPLE GENIUS pulses with stunning, high-intensity suspense.

--Simple Genius by David Baldacci, Copyright ©2007 by David Baldacci, published by Warner Books

My Review

At the start of this book, our old friends, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have relocated to Northern Virginia, figuring that location would have more opportunities for their services than Wrightsburg. The market may be large, but so is the competition, and Michelle is not faring well. She sinks into a depression that hits its nadir when she instigates a bar brawl with someone who very nearly kills her. Michelle needs help, and Sean knows the perfect psychiatrist for the job, Dr. Horatio Barnes. After talking to Michelle, Horatio recommends she have in-patient treatment at a clinic he recommends. That kind of therapy doesn’t come free, however, and Sean must find the money to pay for her treatment. Once again, Sean knows just where to turn.

Joan Dillinger (of Split Second and Hour Game) agrees to hire him for a job. A man named Monk Turing was found dead under suspicious circumstances and his bosses want to know exactly what happened to him. Sean takes the assignment and heads to southern Virginia, to a place called Babbage Town, a kind of “think tank” for the super intelligent.

It doesn’t take Sean long to start digging and in doing so, get himself in trouble on more than one front. Babbage Town is located across the York River from Camp Peary, a super-secret CIA facility. It’s also where Monk Turing’s body was found. What was Turing doing on restricted CIA grounds? Sean wants to look around Camp Peary, but can’t set foot on the grounds without getting arrested. Turing’s daughter, VigenĂ©re, is super intelligent in her own right and obviously knows more than she’s letting on, but like all intelligent children, has a hard time communicating simply. Everywhere Sean turns, he runs into one roadblock after another and the body count is starting to rise.

Michelle, meanwhile, is getting into plenty of trouble on her own. Horatio is convinced something in her childhood changed her personality at age six and despite her resistance, he’s going to help her uncover the memories. Before he can do so, Michelle manages to uncover a drug ring operating at the mental health facility and has the parties arrested. Thinking herself cured, she checks herself out of the facility and joins Sean in Babbage Town.

Sean is glad to have Michelle by his side again, but is still worried about her. He asks Horatio to join them, in part to help Viggie Turing, and in part to keep an eye on Michelle. As the two of them dig, they uncover more mysteries and conspiracies surrounding Babbage Town and Camp Peary, the cost of which may be too high for anyone to pay.

I have to admit, this story was a struggle to read at the beginning and didn’t get much better as it went on. The interweaving plot lines make for a very tidy mesh, but the design is complicated and at times difficult to decipher.

I didn’t care for the way this story started—Michelle going into a seedy bar with a death wish—because it touches into the darkness of a broken mind and broken mind is somewhere I really don’t like to go.

(And to think, in high school, I wanted to go into psychiatry…)

But as it turns out, it was Michelle and her problems that kept me going through this story to its conclusion. Otherwise, I might not have bothered to finish it.

A real “kitchen sink” mystery, Baldacci throws everything into this story, including the kitchen sink. Perhaps if he had simplified the plot, it would have made for an easier read. There is such a thing as being too detailed, too complicated and too crazy and this story fit that mold. However, it all played out in such a plausible, realistic manner that anything simpler might have been cheating.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

My enjoyment of the story says to give it three stars, but the intricate design of the plot and the way it played out deserves four stars, so that’s what I went with.

Judging by the reader reviews posted on, if you really love David Baldacci and the Sean King/Michelle Maxwell series, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re so-so on it or haven’t read the previous books in the series, you might not like it. In fact, I highly recommend reading the previous two books before touching this one.

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