David Baldacci's first novel is a strong opener, enough like John Grisham's work to satisfy Grisham fans but more unique than a simple knock-off. Luther Whitney is a crime story cliché: the career burglar who steals things "only from those who can afford to lose them." He avoids violence toward himself and others. As Luther burgles a Virginia mansion, he demonstrates an expected facility with electronic surveillance systems, locks and assorted tools and techniques of his trade. But it all goes wrong.
Fleeing from unexpected visitors, Luther hides in a room-sized vault with a one-way mirror view of the master bedroom. There he watches Christie Sullivan begin an adulterous affair with the philandering President of the United States, Alan Richmond. Their night goes badly, too. Rough sex turns to anger, then violence. He hits her; she slaps him, he beats and tries to strangle her. When Christie defends herself with a letter opener, Richmond screams. His Secret Service detail rushes in and shoot her dead. Now everyone's evening is ruined.
The rest of the story plays out as the President, his Chief of Staff Gloria Russell, and his two trusted Secret Service agents, Bill Burton and Tim Collin, try to cover up their involvement. Luther escapes immediate detection, but his burglary provides a convenient trail for the investigation. Along the way we meet a well-developed cast of characters. Luther's daughter Kate has been estranged from him for years, but returns to his life in the middle of its current crisis. Jack Graham, who Kate once intended to marry, turns from his lucrative law practices and ludicrous, high maintenance fiancé to help his lost love and her father. Seth Frank is a hard-driven Virginia homicide detective who drill's for the truth through layers of loyalty and deception. And Walter Sullivan, Christie's aging, billionaire husband, brings his resources into play in the hunt for his wife's murderer.
The story is worth your time. There are a few surprises along the way and a few telegraphed events that the reader can see coming. And there are a few details that require some suspension of disbelief. Chief among them is how much mischief the four White House characters can cause without anyone around them noticing. Don't be distracted from your enjoyment by this--just watch the play without pointing out that some of the props don't look real. They are real enough for the characters, and it's the interplay between the characters that make the story good.
The book is highly recommended. If you have enjoyed the movie version of Absolute Power
starring Clint Eastwood, you will still enjoy the book. There are enough differences to keep you surprised and entertained. Luther Whitney comes across a bit...flat in the book, but the other characters make up for it. I have a renewed appreciation of how much additional depth Eastwood brought to the character.