Even from the opening pages, "The Collectors" harbours no deep, dark secrets about the identity of the villain. Roger Seagraves, top flight CIA agent has turned renegade assassin for hire and seller of top level secret information. Having recently completed a successful hit on Speaker of the House, Robert Bradley, his next job was Jonathan DeHaven, Director of Rare Books and Special Collections in the Library of Congress. Why DeHaven, a harmless antiquarian book lover? Thus are sown the seeds of the involvement and interest of the four gents of the Camel Club - Milton Farb, obsessive-compulsive computer geek and ex-Jeopardy champion; Oliver Stone, former CIA black ops agent whose past has simply been erased and swept under the carpet; Reuben Rhodes, the pugilistic, big man and decorated Vietnam veteran; and Caleb Shaw, the mild-mannered, retiring librarian who stumbled across the body of his recently deceased boss as he arrived for his day's work! As one might expect from such a collection of aging, overwrought conspiracy theorists (C'mon! This is a thriller after all!), the details of DeHaven's death, written off as cardiac arrest, smell slightly off and our heroes are unable to resist inserting themselves into a search for the solution to a mystery that nobody else even believes is a mystery.
The other half of this dual plot-line novel involves Annabelle Conroy, a gorgeous confidence trickster, who pulls together a team of top flight criminal colleagues to engineer three "short" cons. These clever smaller jobs are aimed at procuring the funds to finance an ingenious "long" con to lighten Jerry Bagger's wallet to the tune of $30 million. Bagger, an Atlantic City casino baron, was responsible many years earlier for the ruthless murder of Annabelle's mother and Conroy wants her revenge. As they must, the plots cross paths and mesh together when Oliver Stone spots Conroy at DeHaven's funeral, recognizes her from an old photograph in his home and discovers that Conroy is DeHaven's ex-wife.
With the Camel Club, there can be no doubt that Baldacci has put together an entertaining series concept that now has some serious legs. The dialogue is credible and punchy and the cast continues to mature out of their more comic introduction in "The Camel Club" into a set of endearing, thoughtful characters each with their own set of strengths, weaknesses, foibles, idiosyncracies and motives. Baldacci's reading audience will be rooting for the right outcome, booing at the bad guys, chewing their fingernails with concern at all the appropriate cliffhanger locations and will doubtless care what happens to these men as they move quickly from one crisis to another. The story ends (for better or worse) on a completely unresolved plot issue guaranteed to provide the opening for a sequel and return encounter with the Camel Club, Annabelle Conroy and an infuriated Jerry Bagger.
Like most thrillers, "The Collectors" requires a certain amount of suspension of belief and an acceptance of coincidence but the story is so entertaining that I found myself quite forgiving. The fascinating information that Baldacci wove into the story was completely intriguing - the mechanics of identity theft, the backroom operations of a casino, the antiquarian book market. But then there was the sex ... holy cow, and was it awful! I'll admit it ... I enjoy a good, steamy sex scene from time to time in a thriller but Baldacci's writing in this area was so laboured, so trite and so rigidly choreographed that it sounded more like a laughable rehearsal for a bad back alley B-movie!
One weakness notwithstanding, "The Collectors" was a thoroughly entertaining novel that will have me waiting in line for its sequel.
A wonderful easy-reading sequel to THE CAMEL CLUB. Baldacci's reading audience will be rooting for the right outcome, booing at the bad guys, chewing their fingernails with concern at all the appropriate cliffhanger locations and will doubtless care what happens to these men as they move quickly from one crisis to another.