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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Simple Truth

Reviewed: June 14, 2006
By: David Baldacci
Publisher: Warner Books
511 pages, $10.99

Rufus Harms is a black soldier who has been imprisoned for 25 years for the brutal murder of a young white girl. Private Harms is a gentle man, a devout Christian, and one who had been content to serve time for a crime he could not actually recall having committed. He remembered being found with the body, and he remembered rage, but he could not put the two things together.

A letter from his brother containing another letter from his former employer, the US Army, had put a crack in the wall between event and memory, and it all came flooding back. Suddenly Harms knows that he is innocent, that he has the means to prove it, and that those who had put him here have to be made to pay.

This is where the story begins.

John Fiske really feels that he couldn't have been much different than his brother, Michael. Michael is the upwardly mobile brain in the family, an assistant to a Supreme Court judge, full of energy and promise.

John had been a policeman and is now a struggling defense lawyer, defending the very sort of client that he used to arrest. Michael doesn't understand it, and John often doesn't get it himself.

We spend most of the first 126 pages of this book with Michael, watching him struggle with court politics and his relationship with Sara Evans, a clerk with another justice. We watch him take an interest in a particular appeal - Rufus Harms' appeal to the justices.

We don't get all the details, but we get enough to have a sense that a conspiracy is afoot, has been afoot for some time, and that there are highly placed people who have done, and will do, just about anything to make sure that the secret behind Rufus Harms' imprisonment remains a secret.

They will, for instance, kill Michael Fiske, who has shown too close an interest in their quarter century cover up. We've spent enough time with Michael by then that his death actually does matter to us, and set us up to want to find out why it happened.

The conspirators will pursue Rufus Harms and try to kill him,  too, once he escapes from the hospital where he had to be taken after a heart attack induced by fear and rage on the day that Michael visited him in prison.

John Fiske knows none of these things when he is called to identify his brother's body. He has no idea what he is getting into when he starts digging into his brother's effects and begins to piece together what happened to him.

He and Sara, who becomes his ally in this quest for the truth, find themselves pursued and falsely accused even as Rufus has been, and the target of a conspiracy that leads to some very high places in the US government and military.

Baldacci delivers a taut thriller that  works on a number of levels. Tales of government corruption are always a little too believable for comfort after everything that has happened since Watergate.

Dysfunctional family relationships add spice to any story, and a bit of romance is always a nice seasoning. Sara and John are well matched in their independence and determination, but are also a fragile couple who have trouble with intimacy.

Rufus is probably the nicest person in the story, and the one who has lost the most out of life, yet he is the man who seems able to bring balance to the others. I like that touch. It lends a spiritual dimension to a genre which is so often just about corruption.

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