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 Author: David Baldacci

Title: Hell’s Corner

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Paperback: 613 pages

ISBN: 978-0-330-45655-5

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 23/06/2011

It has been two years since David Baldacci’s last Camel Club novel, Divine Justice. In that time I have read – and enjoyed – books from Baldacci’s other series, but none have quite had that certain something that made his Camel Club thrillers so captivating. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that his latest book was a return to the series that, for me, is inextricably associated with Baldacci.

And it was great to see former assassin Oliver Stone / John Carr again – older, [theoretically] wiser, and now living in a small, rather dilapidated cottage in the midst of a cemetery. But, despite his advanced years, Stone soon finds himself drawn back into the intelligence world that he thought he had left behind. Well, when the president of the United States of America personally asks you to undertake a mission for him you can’t really say no!

But, before he can even begin his assigned task, Stone is witness to an apparent bomb attack on the visiting British prime minister and his role changes again – now he must find the people responsible for the act. And, in addition to the motley crew that makes up the Camel Club, Stone finds further assistance in the form of MI6 agent Mary Chapman – a spiky, strong and fiercely independent female presence [and it was good to see a Brit getting a good representation in an American novel!]. Although, on occasion, I have to admit that her ‘Britishness’ was a little too over-the-top and stereotypically Hollywood for my liking [one scene, in which she eats scones and drinks tea in the British Embassy, really had me wincing!].

And there was one other aspect of the plot that stood out. However, this has nothing to do with Baldacci’s skills as an author, but rather is due to a rather strange quirk of fate and timing. I am going to try to be as obtuse as possible in my explanation of what this plot arc involves [to avoid spoiling it for readers], but it has to do with something that has dominated the American psyche and foreign policy for the last few years. And this ‘thing’ was still very much at the forefront of America’s agenda when Baldacci was doubtless writing this novel – and also when Hell’s Corner was published in hardback in the UK in January.

However, by the time the novel was published in the UK in paperback in June, this ‘thing’ had come to a head. I have no doubt that many of you will have guessed what you think I am talking about but, in the best tradition of the US intelligence services, I cannot confirm or deny whether you are correct at this current time! I have to admit that, for me, this plot strand did slightly date the novel [weirdly, considering it has just been published!], but as it was one of a number of plot strands sewn into the book, it didn’t greatly affect my reading experience.

What it did show, however, is quite how in touch Baldacci is with world politics and intelligence services. You come to expect an incredibly high level of research in a Baldacci novel – mixed in with a lot of action – but illustrated, for me, quite how close fiction and reality can come. Which made the lack of co-operation and trust between the numerous intelligence agencies that appear in the novel all the more intriguing, as I wondered to myself how close to the truth it really was!

Despite being over six hundred pages long Hell’s Corner rattles along at a great pace with the skilful and tight plot construction that is Baldacci’s forte. The twists keep on coming and the chapters are kept adeptly short to keep the reader turning the page.  I have to admit that I did guess who was responsible fairly early on [but I should admit that it was an inelegant and rather fortuitous guess and that there was no clever deductive reasoning on my part!]. And it certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying this newest instalment in the Camel Club series. And here’s to hoping that Stone continues to avoid retirement and we will be seeing him and the rest of the Club in the near future…
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