David Baldacci: Characters and sources drive popular series

BY TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Dec 13, 2007 - David Baldacci, New York Times best-selling author, must have friends in high places. Like famous espionage author Robert Ludlum (1927-2001), Baldacci’s books shed light on the inner workings of top secret government agencies.

Courtesy Photo

David Baldacci

Baldacci’s latest offering, “Stone Cold,” is the third in a series called “The Camel Club.” The stories center on a rag-tag group of ex-intelligence officers who know way too much about the bad side of the spy game, and who make it their business to right some terrible wrongs.

Baldacci, who lives with his wife and children in Virginia, took time from his schedule to answer a few questions about his books, characters and a few highly placed intelligence sources.

News-Telegram: How did you settle on such eccentric characters for membership in the watchdog group called The Camel Club?  

The Collectors
By David Baldacci
Grand Central Publishing. 
Paperback $9.99. 544 pp.
4/5 Stars

In the second book about the wacky Camel Club, author David Baldacci follows two stories.
One tale deals with the murder of a mild-mannered employee of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and how the crime may tie in with a rare book dealer and an arms merchant.
The other tells the story of a multi-million dollar con game in Atlantic City. 
The two disparate plots have a common denominator – the murdered librarian. Baldacci brings the stories together in a light, easy read that makes you glad someone has filled the void left when Robert Ludlum died. (They’re still publishing under Ludlum’s name, but the books don’t’ have the same edge or sparkle.)
The characters of the Camel Club are as diverse as they are colorful. Their leader is a man calling himself Oliver Stone, but it’s obvious he’s no filmmaker. He has too many government connections and martial arts skills to be anything but a former spy, operative or assassin. The other members are Caleb, the mild-mannered librarian who worked with the murder victim; Rueben, the dockhand; and Milton, the computer genius. The four men are self-appointed watchdogs who can be very resourceful when it comes to sniffing out the bad guys in government.
The brains behind the Atlantic City swindle is Annabelle Conroy, “con” being the operative part of her last name. She learned her craft from her father, a flim-flam master. Her mother was murdered by one of her father’s marks. Now, she’s set to exact her own pound of flesh from the man who put a bullet in her mother’s head.
Baldacci makes his readers take a big leap when he ties the stories and their characters together, but it’s such a good time that he can be forgiven this one tiny blip on an otherwise very smooth, easy ride.

David Baldacci: I wanted to do something very different from other books. Most D.C. thrillers are written from the point of view of insiders, people in power. I wanted the Club to represent sort of the every-person, an outsider peeking in on the world of behind-the-scenes politics and power. I also loved the idea of someone watching the watchers. It’s nice to see people with no power of influence make a difference simply because they care, particularly about the truth.

N-T: Do you have a favorite?

DB: Oliver Stone/John Carr is my man.

N-T: Did you ever worry that your readers might not accept the group of misfits?  

DB: It’s my job as a writer to make you care about them, however scruffy they might be. And I thought readers were probably tired of the perfect hair, perfect body, beautiful, brilliant protagonists that inhabit many thrillers. I like my gang with a little wear on them.  

N-T: No spoilers here, but you sort of left the fate of the club hanging in the air at the end of "Stone Cold." Surely, the gang has more adventures ahead

DB: I think you’ll see them again.  

N-T: Annabelle Conroy, scam artist extraordinaire, is a juicy addition to the boys club. Did she find you or did you conjure her from thin air?  

DB: Annabelle is mostly from my imagination. But with that said, I’ve also taken bits and pieces of people I’ve known in life to help build her character. And to all the guys out there who keep emailing me and asking for the phone number of the woman who was the inspiration for Annabelle, there isn’t one. So stop asking.  

N-T: The dialogue in the series is really crisp and sometimes downright hilarious. Do the characters tell you what they want to say? Do you laugh out loud when you're writing those scenes?  

DB: I have a lot of fun putting words in their mouths. Particularly Caleb, Reuben and Jerry Bagger. At some point while writing the book you do get a good sense of what a character will say. You get in their heads and you understand their style. And sometimes they do stop me and say, “I wouldn’t deliver a line that way. Rewrite please.” Everybody’s a critic!  

Stone Cold

By David Baldacci

Grand Central Publishing. $26.90. 400 pp.

4/5 Stars

The eclectic members of the Camel Club are back for another fast-paced adventure, this time chasing after Jerry Bagger, an Atlantic City big wig and Harry Flinn, a deadly assassin.
The casino owner is after Annabelle Conroy, the only female allowed into the Camel Club’s inner circle. Conroy took $33 million from the bad guy and he will stop at nothing to get it back.
The assassin has been picking off former colleagues of the Camel Club’s ad hoc leader, Oliver Stone. Instead of being a hardened hit man, Baldacci makes this killer a loving family man, so we know he’s not all bad.
A word of warning: Don’t pick this book up unless you have time to finish it. Once the plots are unveiled, you’ll be compelled to see how Baldacci pulls everything together. The action is non-stop, with a satisfying ending that will please just about everyone.
Editor’s note: It’s not imperative to read this series in order of publication. Each book stands alone.

N-T: You seem to have a lot of insider knowledge about the world of intelligence-gathering. Care to share some of your sources with us? (I was such a fan of Robert Ludlum and never, for one minute, believed he put his kids through college doing voiceovers for television commercials.)  

DB: Over the years, I’ve cultivated many friends and acquaintances in many different fields. They are generous with sharing their knowledge. Many are fans of my books and respect the research I put into them, which makes them even more eager to help me. (And that’s funny, I put my kids through school doing voiceovers just like Ludlum). At least that was my cover story – I mean, you know.  

N-T: Wish You Well, the non-profit foundation you and your wife created, supports family literacy. How did you decide to raise awareness of this issue?  

DB: There’s an enormous literacy problem in this country. Half the adults read at the two lowest levels of literacy. We have to turn that around or we might not have a country left. We’ve funded programs in dozens of states and have also partnered with America’s Second Harvest to collect books for the country’s food banks under the Feeding Body and Mind Program. I go across the country giving speeches and talks on the subject every chance I get. It’s that important. Because a democracy is anchored on the principle of an informed, literate society. If that goes away, so does the democracy part.  

To find out more about the Wish You Well Foundation, visit their website at www.wishyouwell.org.


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