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by David Baldacci
Warner Books, April 2007
432 pages
ISBN: 0446580341

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

SIMPLE GENIUS is a complex tale of murder, lost treasure, a secret enclave of scientific geniuses, tormented pasts, and love without barriers. The characters, some whose names are taken in part from famous people, are well-defined.

One of the most likeable is the psychologist, Horatio Barnes, a man in his 50s with a ponytail and grey goatee. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former Secret Service agents featured in two previous novels, continue to satisfy readers with their expertise, and devotion to each other. At times they seem like John Steed and Emma Peel of The Avengers, though much less sophisticated.

Michelle is haunted by something that happened when she was six years old. Very reluctantly she checks herself into private clinic in the hope she can be cured before she harms herself or some innocent person. The story that evolves while she is in the clinic is worthy enough for a standalone novel, especially if it focused on the vulnerability of the patients in relation to rogue employees in understaffed facilities. However, placing it within SIMPLE GENIUS adds background for some of Michelle’s actions but doesn’t move the story along enough to warrant its inclusion.

Out of work and money, and in an effort to pay the expenses connected with Michelle’s care, Sean rings an old friend to see if there is any work available. He is given the assignment to go to Babbage Town, a secluded 'think tank' of scientific geniuses located directly across from the CIA’s secret training facility at Camp Peary ('the Farm'), to investigate a mysterious death. Sean finds that it isn’t the only mystery in this small area of Tidewater Virginia.

After Michelle checks herself out of the clinic and joins Sean the action accelerates. They are in a race against time as more individuals from Babbage Town are killed, an attempt is made on Sean’s life, and the young daughter of one of the murder victims is kidnapped.

Though overly complicated, this is definitely a must-read for those who enjoy spy thrillers. It has it all – quantum computers, the search for codes to stop the world, a plane put in a terrifying nose-dive by an emotionally crippled co-pilot, boat battles in storms with individuals changing sides of allegiance as lightening, driving rains and landmines add further suspense to the fray. Secret passages and classical music played by a child to reveal codes she was taught by her dead father are all set against the backdrop of the hot and steamy Tidewater area of Virginia, dotted with antebellum mansions and stories of lost treasure and, of course, love. There really is something for everyone.

Reviewed by Ginger K. W. Stratton, March 2007

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