The seeds of Baldacci's latest novel "Simple Genius" are sowed a book earlier.
Mentally stressed beyond her ability to continue a normal life, Michelle Maxwell simply breaks down. Her horrifying experience in "Hour Game" with a boyfriend who turned out to be a serial killer and the continuing anguish of a deeply buried secret we will later learn she has carried with her since she was only six years old drives her into a potentially suicidal bar brawl with a complete stranger. Her long-time friend and investigative partner, Sean King, convinces her to check herself into a psychiatric hospital for rest, recuperation and serious examination of the demons she is encountering. Assuming full responsibility for the financial costs of this care, he desperately searches for work and accepts a contract to investigate the suicide (murder?) of Monk Turing, a quantum physicist and computer scientist working for Babbage Town, a high powered corporate think tank located across the York River from Camp Peary, a top secret CIA training facility. (That name, by the way - Turing, that is - is no coincidence!)
But like any good modern thriller, "Simple Genius" draws in far more detail, many more twists and turns, unexpected plot diversions and absorbing information than one would expect from this straightforward plot development in the opening chapters - the basics of public and private encryption keys and the related use of enormous numbers and their correspondingly huge prime factors; rogue CIA agents; the history of German POWs during WW II in New England; a treasure hunt from Colonial England and America's first days as an independent nation; the moral issues of civil rights as they apply to prisoners in the current wars on terror and drugs; hypnosis and the difficulties of diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses; and much more.
Like some of his high-powered peers in the thriller racket (Jonathan Kellerman, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child immediately come to mind), Baldacci's side bars on science, history, geography and politics are diverting, informative, interesting and entertaining without interrupting the timing and flow of the plot. This has got to be an art in its own right!
Highly recommended summer escapist reading! If you enjoy thrillers, you won't be sorry for taking a copy of this one to the beach or the cottage with you. And, thankfully, the door is left wide open for return appearances by Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.