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The Collectors

Reviewed: February 4, 2009
By: David Baldacci
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
511 pages, $12.99

David Baldacci writes close to the center of American power. Most of his books are set in and around Washington, and they involve corruption in high places. His book Absolute Power, was the original story behind the highly entertaining Clint Eastwood movie of a few years ago.

I had thought all of his books were stand-alone novels, but The Collectors took me by surprise. It appears to be the second volume in the adventures of the Camel Club (the name of the first adventure), a loose knit “organization” led by a former black ops government agent who now goes by the name of Oliver Stone. He and his companions, Milton Farb, an obsessive computer genius; Reuben Rhodes, a blue-collar laborer; Caleb Shaw, a Library of Congress reference specialist, dabble in cases no one wants to touch. They “held no positions of power and wielded no influence; and yet they kept their eyes and ears open.” They take no credit and are generally unknown to the world.

There are three parts to this novel. It begins with the bad guy, or one of them, a rogue agent named Roger Seagraves who we quickly learn is selling secrets on the side and assassinating people who are getting too close to his extracurricular activities.

By chapter 2 we meet Annabelle Conroy, perhaps the greatest con artist of her generation. Conroy assembles a team to pull off a con that would do Danny Ocean proud, partly for the money, partly for the challenge, and partly for revenge. Then she travels to Washington, on her way to Europe, when she encounters the members of the Camel Club and becomes an essential member of the team in their latest caper.

This one starts with the sudden and inexplicable death of one of Caleb’s colleagues at the Library of Congress, but the membership (whom we don’t actually meet until chapters 6 and 7) finds a suspicious connection to the earlier death by assassination of the Speaker of the House. The Library of Congress death appears to be of natural causes, and no one who wasn’t already suspicious would have looked any further. The Camels did and found themselves in the midst of Seagraves’ plot to keep his espionage activities from being curtailed.

The problem with series is that the various books have interconnections. The hook at the end of The Collectors leaves a plot thread dangling from Conroy’s caper in Atlantic City, and I’m just going to have to read the next book, Stone Cold, to see how that works out.

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