Book Review – The Escape

Book Review

The Escape

By David Baldacci

I think that I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you’re not one of the 3 people that read this blog, including my mom (and yes, mom, it’s ok that you leave comments – my friends won’t mind), I generally read science fiction. So this is a departure. I re-read a Robert B. Parker novel recently, The Godwulf Manuscript, which got me to thinking. Maybe I should branch out a little bit and try something new, like police thrillers. I know, I’m really branching out here. One person’s mainstream is my great departure. OK, most people’s mainstream is my departure.

Spoiler Alert – I give away the ending, so if you haven’t read and would like to then now might be a good time to stop reading.

They get the bad guy.

Wow, that was fast.

That said, it is kind of how I felt about the novel in general. The author, the character, and the series, are very popular. The book has 5,783 comments on Amazon, and a rating of 4.6 stars out of 5. This compares to one of my favorite recent scifi novels, Old Man’s War, which has 1,611 comments and 4.4 stars. Clearly, the mainstream loves this book. And while I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel like it broke any new ground. And maybe that’s the point.

The story is about a special agent with the U.S. Army, a combat veteran who investigates crimes within the military. John Puller, six foot four 230 pounds, is called in to investigate the escape of a prisoner from Leavenworth. Turns out, it is Puller’s own brother, Bobby Puller, who escaped. John Puller is pulled in to investigate, despite the family ties, and teams up with a beautiful female agent to get the bad guys. There are Russian spies, femmes fatale, and weaponized Ebola virus.

I also recently read the first Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, Killing Floor. It has 3,745 reviews on Amazon, and a rating of 4.2 stars. It is a thriller about an ex-military police investigator with the U.S. Army, a combat veteran who discovers that his brother is a victim of a crime. Reacher, six foot four 230 pounds, is pulled in because he was mistakenly ID-ed at the crime scene (he looks like his brother), and he teams up with a beautiful female police officer to get the bad guys. There is organized crime, counterfeit money, and corruption in the FBI.

The Russian spies  and weaponized Ebola virus.should be enough to make the book as it is, but I kept wanting there to be more of a twist. Maybe that’s the scifi geek in me. I also wanted there to be more interesting turns of phrase, clever descriptions, and quirky character flaws. Instead, what I got was exposition, movie dialogue, and character with unshakable honor. With that, I think I understand. It seems that the thriller reader wants a movie with a strong jawed hero of unwavering integrity. And while I would prefer the interesting turns of phrase, clever descriptions, and flawed characters, I will probably read another Baldacci novel.


7 thoughts on “Book Review – The Escape

  1. This kind of thriller is the masculine counterpart to the romance novel. (My wife likes them, which should tell you something.) You know what you’re going to get when you look at the cover. If readers *don’t* get that, they complain.

    My father used to do a lot of traveling. His rule for airport bookstores: “Buy a book with a swastika on the cover. Or a hammer-and-sickle, at a pinch. You know exactly what kind of book it is, and you don’t care if you lose it.”


  2. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is a counterpart to the romance novel. But I understand your point. The image you raise of the swastika or hammer and sickle is so true. I can imagine it in my mind’s eye as if I were in Logan right now.

    “If readers *don’t* get that, they complain.”

    Yes, and that’s the way it should be. It is a genre. If I didn’t get my science in my science fiction, I would complain that it was an adventure novel dressed up as scifi.


    1. The analogy with the romance novel is this: when you open the book, you already know how it’s going to end. Hero and heroine are happily in love (romance) OR, as you put it, they get the bad guy (thriller). There’s no jeopardy, by which I mean that there’s zero risk of a surprising, unsettling, or ambiguous ending.

      “That’s the way it should be” is a fair point. The difference vs. “science in my science fiction” is that the latter is about the content of the book. My observation re: the thriller/romance paradigm isn’t quite about the content, but about the kind of conflict that’s expected and the kind of resolution that’s permitted.

      To stretch the point, I like “puzzle” mysteries. The essential element is–and this is analogous to science in SF–that when the answer is revealed, you should think back to the body of the story and say “Aha!” (“D’oh!” is also acceptable.) Compared to the romance and thriller categories … on the one hand, the problem MUST be solved for the story to be entertaining; but, on the other hand, it isn’t necessary for Justice to Triumph. I’ve read some excellent mysteries where the criminal gets away with it–I won’t name names, for fear of spoilers.

      Also, all this does touch on the current excitement about this year’s Hugo awards. To the extent that the insurgents aren’t simply sexist, racist twerps–which is a variable but not especially large extent–they’re complaining about a closely related point. Some of them have explicitly made the argument that, gosh darn it, you just can’t rely on a book which has a spaceship on the cover being a rip-roaring tale of interplanetary adventure any longer.


      1. “you already know how it’s going to end”

        I suppose that’s true of many genres. That’s kind of why it is a genre; it has similar themes and structure.

        “I like ‘puzzle’ mysteries.”

        Me, too. This is my point about the clever turn of phrase or surprising turn of events. In fact, if you don’t get your puzzle and the ending is predictable the you will be disappointed. It is your preferred genre.

        It’s the surprise that makes it engaging. It’s true of many things. Interesting music has a twist. You expect a certain progression but when it goes another way (one that “makes sense” but isn’t expected) our brains give us a shot of dopamine, and we’re pleased.

        I have been trying hard not to engage the Hugo fiasco. I am vaguely aware that it exists, but the level of politics exponentially multiplied by internet trolldom has convinced me that the award is in its last throes. It has already lost credibility. It is only a matter of time now.


  3. Scalzi was surprising because the first novel (and the second) hadn’t a happy ending. Okay. Might as well pivot and turn 520 Move 3. Ever read Shutter Island? (not seen the flick read the movie)


    1. Scalzi is usually quite good. He lost a bit of steam in the OMW sequels, but still quite fun. Liked Locked In as well. Didn’t read Shutter Island. Can you recommend it?


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