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A Code Enthusiast's Thriller
am 5. Mai 2007
If you love books about secret codes, Simple Genius will be a book you'll long treasure. If you like thrillers that teem with action, sex scenes, obscure martial arts, and high-tech weaponry, this book will seem like a yawn.
As Mr. Baldacci warns you, don't read the Author's Note until after you finish the book. But don't miss that note if you read and like the book. It's a marvelous look into how the story was constructed.
What I found most delightful about Simple Genius was that the plot development kept surprising me. Sure, the general outlines are foreshadowed intentionally (so that you don't get lost in the maze of details), but the specifics shift unexpectedly. In fact, midway through the book, I literally jumped out of my chair with surprise when one change occurred involving the medical examiner.
Simple Genius is intellectually dense. You'll be exposed to more psychology, code breaking, quantum computers, and history than you would normally find in 20 thrillers combined. To Mr. Baldacci's credit, he keeps it as simple as possible without insulting your intelligence.
As the book opens, former Secret Service agents turned PIs, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have hit bottom. They don't have any work, and Michelle picks a potentially lethal fight with the toughest guy she can find in the roughest bar in town. It takes the last of Sean's money, but he persuades Michelle to seek psychiatric help from an old friend, Dr. Horatio Barnes. Barnes quickly concludes that Michelle is punishing herself, but for what?
Desperate to keep Michelle in treatment, Sean calls his former love and begs for a job. He gets the job, on the condition that Michelle is kept away.
Sean is to find out why Monk Turing, a scientist, appears to have committed suicide inside the CIA's highly classified facility informally referred to as the Farm. The scientist had worked at a very secretive installation cross the river from the Farm. No one wants to tell Sean anything. He cannot even find out who his clients are.
Sean's heart is deeply touched by Viggie, the 11-year-old daughter of the scientist, a mathematical genius whose emotional and social development is retarded.
Sean finds he cannot make much progress until Michelle releases herself from the mental hospital. But can either of them count on her mental stability? Michelle finds herself in the unexpected nurturing role for Viggie.
Michelle is by far the most interesting character in the book. She's super human physically and intensely flawed psychologically at the same time, reminding me of the myth of Achilles. I found in her a metaphor for the modern world with its ability to do increasingly great things materially while becoming ever more spiritually and psychologically barren.
In addition to enjoying the thriller, you'll find this book will also leave you with lots of food for thought.