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Trash Fiction Corner: ‘The Forgotten’

BOOK: The Forgotten, by David Baldacci

STATUS: As of this writing, No. 4 on the New York Times’ combined e-book and print best-seller list

PLOT: Joe Puller, a top Army investigator, is drawn to Paradise, Fla., by a cryptic letter from his aunt. Alas, by the time he arrives, she’s dead. Police insist it’s an accident, though he suspects otherwise. Puller, a large, powerful man who’s competent at violence …

WAIT, DOESN’T THAT SOUND LIKE …: Yes, like Baldacci’s attempting to draft off of Lee Child’s popular creation, Jack Reacher …

ANYWAY, CONTINUE: … Puller falls in with a sympathetic cop, and begins to probe the (ham-handed metaphor alert!) trouble in Paradise (told you), which we know, but he doesn’t, involves serious human trafficking. Alternating chapters follow Puller’s doppelganger, a large, violent man who escaped the traffickers and seeks revenge. Fistfights, gunfights and sex with a one-star general ensue.

IS IT ANY GOOD?: Definitely better than Baldacci’s last novel, The Innocent, which was guilty of felony lameness. And Puller is one of Baldacci’s more appealing characters — take that for what it’s worth. But the book suffers from some of the shortcomings of Baldacci’s formula. For example: There’s usually going to be a surprise betrayer, and, reliably, you know it’s not going to be the asshole built up as our hero’s nemesis. Knowing this, it’s pretty easy to get an early bead on who the turncoat is, and what fun is that?

BUT AT LEAST THE STORY HAS A CHARISMATIC VILLAIN! RIGHT?: Well, if by “charismatic” you mean “boringly, one-dimensionally amoral,” and “utterly lacking in narrative complexities,” then yes! It’s a shame, too, because the world of high-volume human trafficking ought to be a vivid and scary setting for a story like this.

BUT AT LEAST THE STORY MOVES! RIGHT?: Baldacci’s saving grace is usually his knack for velocity, and while he’s told more gripping stories in other books, this one does at least get along at a somewhat absorbing clip.

BUY IT IN HARDCOVER, WAIT FOR PAPERBACK OR JUST SKIP IT?: Paperback — in case you eventually need mindless distraction during a long plane trip or typical doctor’s office wait.