'No Man's Land' Author's latest book delves into a 'cold case' mystery

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Even though he has 35 books to his name that have been sold in more than 80 countries, translated into more than 45 languages, and have sold more than 120,000 copies worldwide, New York Times best-selling novelist David Baldacci doesn't have any plans to rest on his laurels and "phone it in."

"I have a really terrific weapon against that two of them, actually. One is I really love to write. I never see it as a job. For a long time, I didn't get paid, so I don't write for a paycheck. I don't have to write ever again if I don't want to, but I get up every morning feeling like a little kid again telling stories; that's just how I approach it," said Baldacci, 56, of northern Virginia.

An alumnus of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia School of Law, the prolific Baldacci has several series characters: John Puller, Will Robie, the Camel Club, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell (which inspired TNT's short-lived "King & Maxwell TV series in 2013); Shaw and Katie James; and Amos Decker. His first novel "Absolute Power" became a 1997 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. His fourth thriller featuring Puller, "No Man's Land" (Grand Central Publishing) debuts Tuesday, Nov. 15.

"Secondly, I've always carried this fear inside me that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing and one day people might figure that out and I can't bring the magic again. Fear is a great antidote to complacency," he said. "I've never gotten up and decided I'm going to write a new book and I'll just change the names of the characters. One: It would be terribly boring for me. I don't like to be bored. Two: I have far more respect for my readers than that."

In the case of "The Finisher," the first book in his young adult fantasy series, Baldacci shipped it off to several publishers under the pseudonym Janus Pope because he wanted the work to speak for itself. He didn't want it published because he's a recognizable name in the publishing industry.

"I want publishers to buy my work based solely on the material and the writing," said Baldacci. "There might well come a day when I have nothing left to say and have no stories left to write, but I'm certainly not here yet. Once it stops becoming fun and starts becoming laborious in a bad way, I think I'll step away. I have no interest in being a book factory, I have no interest in hiring writers to keep churning out books with my name on them. To me, that's pointless it's just me. When it stops being fun, that'll be it for me."

Fellow best-selling attorney-cum-author James Grippando praised Baldacci for venturing out with new genres and not just penning mystery-thrillers.

"David Baldacci is one of those writers to whom all 'lawyer-authors' owe a debt of gratitude. First, for writing terrific legal thrillers that keep the genre fresh and exciting. Second, for stretching himself with works like 'Wish You Well,' which prove that the so-called 'lawyer-author' phenomenon is way, way bigger than the genre," said Grippando.

In "No Man's Land," Puller an agent of the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigations Division looks into the cold case involving his mother Jackie, who disappeared 30 years ago and presumed dead. Recently, a witness has come forth accusing John Puller Sr. a retired 3-star general who's suffering from dementia of murdering Jackie, even though he was overseas when she disappeared.

His back against the wall, Puller must solve his mother's case and protect his father at the same time. As he investigates, Puller learns four more women were murdered around the same time Jackie vanished something numerous government agencies covered up and are now stonewalling him. He also crosses paths with the enigmatic yet dangerous Paul Rogers, a recently-released convict who becomes an uneasy ally. However, that alliance ends once Puller learns Rogers may have been involved in his mother's death.

Baldacci hinted at Jackie's disappearance in previous Puller books.

"I had that bomb planted a long time ago‚?¶ This one was there for a while that was the foreshadowing and 'No Man's Land' was the pay-off. This is the one case Puller an exemplary investigator who's relentless and tenacious when he's on a case never wanted to undertake because he felt tremendous guilt," he explained. "I'm very much into challenging my characters and giving them things they don't want to confront‚?¶ I like to see flawed characters I find them interesting and realistic. This way, Puller can confront the demons of the past and find out the truth behind what happened to his mother."

Puller Sr. was based on Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller, one of the most decorated marines in U.S. history. He was a native Virginian. His son Chesty Puller Jr. also was a war hero.

"For me, I'm gonna create a character who's the son of this person and make it really difficult for him growing up in that shadow because he could never top what his old man did. The father/son relationship, I thought, was a very dynamic one; it just again made Puller (Jr.) flawed from the very beginning; he could never overcome the enormous shadow of the old man. Also, there's a brother (Robert) who's far more brilliant than John is, but in some ways not clearly his equal," said Baldacci. "For me, I've always tried to go beyond the action, beyond the bangs and the booms and dig into the characters. People never grow tired of that because they can see mirrors of their own lives inside these heroic characters and see that they're flawed, that they screw up too‚?¶ People connect to that."

He did the same thing with Decker, his newest series character. A former pro-football player, Decker's career stopped before it started after a violent helmet-to-helmet collision left him with hyperthymesia the ability to remember everything. Since he has total recall, Decker joined the FBI in his second adventure "The Last Mile," which was released earlier this year.

When creating Decker, Baldacci stated he wanted him to become a totally different person after his injury. It was also a challenge for him because unlike all his other characters, Decker wasn't ambitious; he was the exact opposite.

"I wanted to humanize Decker and bring him out more, unpeel some layers from his very tough skin so that people can see his human side. One way to do that is bring him in close contact with someone who's just as damaged as he is," explained Baldacci.

Michigan native Allison Leotta, a.k.a. the "female John Grisham," cited Baldacci as one of her inspirations when she made the jump from being an attorney to being a novelist.

"David Baldacci is the master of suspense. His novels grab you from page one and don't let go til the last page. His transition from law to literature has been spectacular, and inspired me as I made the same transition. He's also just a really nice guy," said Leotta.

New York Times best-selling novelist Hank Phillippi Ryan also praised Baldacci.

"Baldacci is in the pantheon of the real writing rock stars," said Ryan. "He never fails to amaze and surprise me."

In early 2017, Decker and Vega Jane will return in "The Fix" and "The Width of the World," respectively. TV projects featuring Puller, Decker, and another character Mace Perry from "True Blue" are in the works, but nothing is set in stone, stated Baldacci. He plans on bringing back Robie and the Camel Club in the near future.

"I like diversity. But if I'm on a roll, I'm on a roll. In the last four years, I've gotten into this routine it may change in the future where I've been doing Decker in the spring and then interchanging Puller or Robie in the fall," said Baldacci. "It seems Decker's in the spring and either Puller or Robie's in the fall. These characters have a lot of gas left in the tank. I'm very excited about them and really into them right now. That momentum is there, so that's where I am on that."

While he enjoyed practicing law for 10 years, Baldacci enjoys writing novels more.

"When I say I love writing, I'm not just saying that I truly do. I love to explore lots of different media, different venues, and different genres," he said. "Having control over career over your day, your career, your life, and doing something you really love you can't beat it. For me, the love of being able to get up and do what I want that day nothing can top that."

Published: Thu, Nov 24, 2016

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