Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First Family by David Baldacci (unabridged audio book read by Ron McLarty)

During a birthday party at Camp David, President Dan Cox's niece Willa Dutton is kidnapped and the girl's mother killed. Suspicious eyes turn toward Tuck Dutton, father of the girl and brother to First Lady Jane Cox. Almost immediately, Jane calls private investigator Sean King.

Years ago, when Dan Cox was a senator and Sean was in the Secret Service, he saved the young senator from a potentially career-ruining situation, and now Jane trusts Sean completely. So, he and partner Michelle Maxwell begin investigating the mysterious murder/kidnapping, until she is pulled away by the death of her mother, and she notices that all the evidence points to her father.

Elsewhere, Sam Quarry is angry. His daughter Tippi has been in a coma since a tragic occurrence years ago, and all he can do is wait — and read to her from her favorite book, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Or is that all he can do? Could it be that revenge is the answer?

First Family takes its time getting started; there's a lot of character history to impart before the book can really get moving. After disc 3, I was close to putting it down for good, but two discs later I didn't want to turn it off. This is a testament to author David Baldacci's skillful plotting.

He has three different main plots going simultaneously (only one of which feels redundant), and yet things never get confusing or out of control. And he really knows just the right spot to spring a surprise bit of information. Although I had low expectations for First Family, I ended up being very impressed. Which is especially surprising since I generally don't care for this brand of mainstream mystery-thriller.

Baldacci offers a highly sympathetic villain. In fact, by the end of First Family, you'll be asking yourself just who the villain really is. Protagonists King and Maxwell (Simple Genius) are comparatively weak. Their developing relationship is such a minor part of the story, since they're so busy, that scenes that bring them alone together feel forced.

However, audiobook narrator Ron McLarty gives one of his best readings yet (assisted by the occasional melody and sound effect). He is equally proficient at all types, but it is his portrayal of Sam Quarry that really shines. Sam is a full-bodied individual. He is really the only character in First Family that feels that way. It almost seems as if McLarty were not involved at all, and that Sam himself were simply caught on record. This is one case where the narrator is able to bring more to the experience than just words on a page.

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