Walk the Wire by David Baldacci

David Baldacci’s latest book, Walk the Wire, continues the story of Amos Decker, a former football player whose injuries have rewired his brain so that he has some very strange abilities, including remembering everything, even stuff he wants to forget. Oh, and he sees the recently dead in electrifying shades of blue.

A graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, David Baldacci first worked as a trial lawyer, and later a corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C.

David Baldacci

But he was a writer long before that, starting at age 8 when his mother gave him a notebook so he could write down his stories. He credits her with providing the spark that led him to become a New York Times best-selling author. Baldacci’s 40 adult novels have sold more than 130 million copies, are available in 45 languages and in 180 countries. Several have also been adapted for TV and movies.

Besides that, he’s found time to pen seven children’s novels. And if that isn’t impressive enough, consider this: he’s not yet 60. That means, in addition to writing all those trial briefs when he worked as an attorney, Baldacci has turned out about two books a book a year since his first, “Absolute Power,” was published in 1996. (Clint Eastwood later directed and starred in the film adaptation.)

As for Baldacci’s mother, well, she confessed that she gave him that notebook not to set him on a career as an author but to keep him quiet.

Baldacci’s latest book, Walk the Wire, continues the story of Amos Decker, a former football player whose injuries have rewired his brain so that he has some very strange abilities, including remembering everything, even stuff he wants to forget. Oh, and he sees the recently dead in electrifying shades of blue.

Now an FBI agent, Decker and his partner, Alex Jamison, find themselves trying to solve a gruesome murder in a small North Dakota town gone explosively big because of fracking.

“The body of a woman has been found,” said Baldacci, giving a brief overview of his sixth novel in the Decker series. “The only thing is, she’s already been autopsied. The oil boom town is full of danger on a number of levels for Decker.”

Baldacci has had an interest in boom-and-bust towns for awhile.

“They’re as close as we’re going to get to the wild, wild west again, at least hopefully,” he said. “And it was a way to take Decker out of his comfort zone and see what he could do under really dire situations.”

Decker’s total recall is actually a real, if exceedingly rare, syndrome called hyperthymesia. As for that blue body thing, well, it does exist, but maybe not in the way Decker experiences it.

“Synesthesia is the term, and it refers to a comingling of sensory pathways in the brain,” said Baldacci. “Decker seeing electric blue around death was one manifestation I came up with. The more common ones are seeing numbers in color or sounds in color.”

Besides the Amos Decker series, Baldacci has nine other series going, as well as numerous stand-alone books. When I ask him if he ever gets confused — he often is penning at least two books at one time — his answer is no.

“I created them all, so it’s as easy as remembering your kids. They’re all unique to me, ” he said, noting that he is currently writing two books — the next Atlee Pine thriller, and then, going back in time to 1949, the sequel to “One Good Deed.”

If they’re like his kids, then maybe it’s not fair to ask if he has a favorite. After all, you wouldn’t ask a parent that. But I do anyway.

“I like all of my characters, or else I wouldn’t spend time with them,” he responded. “Decker is probably the most fun one to write about. It’s hard to predict what he’s going to say or do, and I like that about him. No parameters.”

That statement brings us to another fascinating aspect of Baldacci’s writing. He really doesn’t do more than mini outlines for his books.

“I like to let the plot and characters grow organically,” he said. “I like revelations and epiphanies along the way, those aha moments. If I surprise myself while writing the story, I’m going to knock readers on their butts.”

Pretty as a Picture

An isolated island, two unsolved murders two decades apart, and a megalomaniacal director are all part of the job for Marissa Dahl, a talented film director who finds herself in the middle of it all.

In Pretty as a Picture, Elizabeth Little’s latest thriller, film director Marissa Dahl accepts a job to work on an isolated island off the coast of Delaware with the notoriously erratic director Tony Rees. When she arrives on the set, Dahl doesn’t know much about her new job except that the movie is about a woman who was murdered there two decades ago. But there’s more going on besides a megalomaniacal director and an old unsolved murder.  Rees wants the movie to convey, in graphic detail, the woman’s death; numerous scandals are about to erupt and before long, another woman is found dead. Will she be next, Marissa wonders? 

         Extremely talented Marissa, who has high functioning-like autistic social interactions, is befriended by two completed wired-in teenaged girls when she goes in search of peanut butter. The girls are convinced that there’s more to the local murder than meets the eye. Teaming up they work to solve the mystery.

         Little knows Hollywood. Her husband had many miserable years there working in the business (he’s now getting a degree in social worker) and she’s met her share of outrageous and egotistical directors. That in part is why she wrote this, her second mystery.

         “With Pretty as a Picture, I had known for a couple of months that I wanted to write something about the film business—I live in Los Angeles and am married to an ex-filmmaker, so it was a subject that was very close at hand,” says Little. “I tried writing a few chapters, working out some of the plot lines, but nothing really took root until I realized that my main character was a film editor who was far more comfortable in the company of her favorite movies than in that of real-life people. I wish I could say that inspiration struck suddenly—or even efficiently—but I think I just had to write my way into the realization.”

         Little describes herself as writing in a highly immersive first-person perspective.

         “I want my readers to be in both the heads and the bodies of my narrators, to really feel what they’re feeling,” she says. “And in order to do this, I work really hard to put myself into a place, mentally, where I’m able to credibly conjure up the physical and emotional sensations of my narrators. I don’t just put myself in their shoes, in other words—I put myself in their muscle and sinew and skin. It’s a little extreme at times, to be honest, and I wonder at times if I’m Daniel Day Lewissing it—when I finish a day of work, it can really feel like I’m finally coming up for air.  It’s probably far too pretentious an approach for a thriller writer, but it seems, so far, to be working for me.”

         Little may not like Hollywood, but she does like Marissa.

“She’s particularly dear to me because she’s so deeply uncool and sweet and weird,” she says. “She’s vulnerable and awkward and loyal and hilarious and annoying and really, really good at her job. I love her. I hope readers love her, too.”

Darling Rose Gold

         Poor Patty Watts. She did everything she could for her daughter Rose Gold who was confined to a wheelchair, allergic to everything and struggled with an unbelievable number of health issues beginning at birth. Patty couldn’t work because she devoted herself to her daughter’s care. Luckily neighbors were kind, holding fundraisers and helping Patty anyway they could. She was described as a supermom.

         Only she wasn’t. Instead, she was constantly feeding Rose Gold ipecac, making her vomit and manipulating doctors like getting one to put the two-year-old girl on a feeding tube and then not giving her the amount of food she needed. All this was to ensure that Rose Gold would remain gravely ill. When she was discovered, Patty went from a hero to prison, where she spent five years for aggravated child abuse. Rose Gold, in the meantime, had a child and learned to live on her own. Then Patty was released from prison and needed a place to live. Would Rose take her in? And what would happen when she did?

         That’s the question Chicago native Stephanie Wrobel asks in her recently released book, “Darling Rose Gold,” a tense thriller that opens with Rose Gold picking her mother up from prison.

         Wrobel was intrigued by stories told by her best friend, a school psychologist, about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP).

         “The mother-daughter bond is supposed to be sacred,” says Wrobel, in a phone call from England where she has lived for the last few years. “But that’s not the case in MSBP, a mental health disorder where a caregiver fakes or induces illness in the person they’re taking care of. The more research I did on the subject, the more fascinated and appalled I became. In most cases, the perpetrators are mothers acting out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community.” 

         Wanting to get into the head of both the victim and the perpetrator, Wrobel tells the story of mother and daughter from both points of view. Patty, it seems, has developed such an impenetrable armor, she’s unable to see the evil she’s done. Rose Gold, tougher now, wants to pay back those who have done her harm. But, as they say, it’s complicated.

My Lovely Wife

“It didn’t start off as a murder,” says Samantha Downing, whose bestselling first novel My Lovely Wife (Berkley Trade 2020, $16) was recently released in paperback. “The first death was accidental but not the second.”

         Sure, any marriage can—and probably will–hit a few lows here and there. Solutions to these hard times can vary—a romantic weekend away, couples therapy or long, long talks and walks. But for Millicent and her husband of 15 years who live in a posh Central Florida suburb with their two children, the spark comes from embarking upon a shared hobby—murder.

Samantha Downing

         “It didn’t start off as a murder,” says Samantha Downing, whose bestselling first novel My Lovely Wife (Berkley Trade 2020, $16) was recently released in paperback. “The first death was accidental but not the second.”

         Downing’s inspiration came from a documentary about a couple who kidnapped a woman and held her captive for years.

          “Finally, the wife let her go and ended up testifying against her husband,” says Downing, who has been nominated for Best First Novel in the 2020 Edgar Awards.

.        “I thought you never hear about women being the instigator in these kind of situations. It made me wonder if she was, what would she be like?”

         Her answer, she says, was an extreme version of the woman who has to be and do everything—a superwoman type.

         “Millicent is very controlled with a crazy outlet to relieve stress,” says Downing, who grew up reading psychological and legal thrillers.

         My Lovely Wife, as the title implies, is told in the voice of the unnamed husband.

         “Our love story is simple,” he says by way of introduction. “I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.”

         It isn’t long before the husband longs for a return to boredom, but Millicent is on a roll and he’s along for the ride. But there are complications. When a second woman disappears, their community starts to wonder and worry. Their gilded suburb is on edge and suspicions arise. Maybe all these murders weren’t such a good idea after all.

         Though the subject is edgy, surprising the story isn’t bloody or  violent.

         “Though the subject matter is certainly dark, it’s not gory, there’s no sex, nothing graphic,” says Downing. “I didn’t want the book to be bleak, I like satire, I wanted this to be darkly comedic and for people to enjoy the story.”

         Downing seems to have her mark. Amazon Studios acquired the rights to the book and are partnering on the film version with Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films.

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