The Camel Club is not your ordinary thriller . . . or your ordinary David Baldacci novel. If you simply want the tried and true formula put together in the usual way, avoid this book. If you want to expand your vision to see the silliness of politics and government as practiced now, The Camel Club will be your favorite thriller of 2005.
The Camel Club takes the patriotic outsider's view of citizenship. As the Founding Fathers said so often, a government is as strong as its citizens' willingness to be intelligently active.
The Camel Club is made up of four unlikely candidates for improving government. Oliver Stone, a made-up name, is a cemetery caretaker by day who protests across from the White House at night. Caleb Shaw is a bibliophile who dresses like a 19th century salesman. Reuben Rhodes is a veteran who did some spying who's down on his luck, but is still a powerful hulk of a man at sixty. Milton Farb is a genius who has obsessive-compulsive disorder which makes him quite unusual to be around. They meet to find ways to track government wrongs and right them.
As the book opens, the Camel Club members find their meeting is intruded upon by two thugs murdering someone . . . and making it look like suicide. It's a scene reminiscent of the Vince Foster death. The thugs spot the Camel Club and gun shots are fired.
In a parallel thread, veteran Secret Service agent Alex Ford finds himself attracted to a lovely, young bartender who is a DOJ attorney by day. To his surprise, she asks him out.
In his day job, Ford finds himself partnered with an annoying rookie with friends in high places. By a weird coincidence, Ford is assigned to investigate the death the Camel Club observed.
In the background, someone is preparing the granddaddy of all terrorist attacks on U.S. government officials.
As the story develops, you follow many different characters as narrators and plot threads until they all overlap in the book's second half.
By the time you are done, you'll have a different perspective on how terrorism can attract attention and influence behavior.
I liked this book very much. I found several characters to be appealing and interesting. That sympathy made the story work much better for me. By contrast, in most thrillers the characters are barely made out of cardboard (comic book paper would be a better description). Baldacci takes the time to develop several characters into reasonably identifiable human beings. The plot relies on your sense of the characters as well as an intricate imagination to provide a lot of interesting surprises. It's only in the last few pages that the book seems to settle down into the comfortable old formula. One sequence there reminded me of the end of The Man with the Golden Gun.
Beyond that, the book is very funny. Baldacci knows how to make government pretensions seem to be about as ridiculous as possible. At times I felt like I was reading a Jon Stewart script.
Baldacci has also written a book that is very easy to visualize. I found myself running a movie in my head as the action developed. This will be a great film!
As I finished the book, I found myself hoping that there will be more Camel Club books in the future. These characters can go the distance to support a very entertaining and satirical look at government lunacy.
Well done, David Baldacci!