Army detective unravels drama and danger in ‘Zero Day’

August 11, 2012

Novelist David Baldacci has sold more than 100 million books, but I mainly knew him from viewing the covers of his books. I was happily surprised, however, by his 2011 thriller about a murder investigation in rural West Virginia that is tied to a sinister plot.

Zero Day revolves around John Puller, a former Army Ranger who saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. As the book opens, Puller is a special agent in the service’s Criminal Investigative Division.

He is dispatched to the remote town of Drake after a Pentagon intelligence officer and his family are slaughtered there. Bodies pile up quickly after Puller’s arrival, but clues are scarce. The deaths seem to be connected, however, to a very successful locally owned coal mining company.

With the aid of a whip-smart local police sergeant named Sam Cole, who has close ties to the mining mogul, Puller eludes multiple assassination attempts and begins penetrating the deceptions that have been strewn across his path. And he discovers that tiny Drake has drawn the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, who may be gambling with the lives of its residents.

I mentioned earlier that I mainly knew Baldacci from the covers of his books. Although I’m not sure, I may have read his 2007 mystery-thriller Simple Genius, which also involves a man and woman investigating a murder that ends up having national security implications. I disliked that volume, and I probably would not have read Zero Day had it not come to me highly recommended.

The writing in Zero Day, like its protagonist, is efficient rather than elegant, and the book doesn’t exactly strive to push the artistic envelope. But Baldacci knows how to construct an intricate plot and build tension, and he imbues his characters with just enough personality to make me care what was going to happen to them. If you’re looking for some escapist entertainment, this novel could be just the ticket. 

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