Up Close: David Baldacci
Continuing the Stride in WALK THE WIRE
By Dawn Ius
More than any other genre, thriller writers produce the kinds of characters readers don’t easily forget, the heroes that defy the odds, save the day, and hopefully come back year after year. We know these fictional men and women as if they were our friends—we rely on them to provide an escape from reality, to defeat the evil, to provide comfort when life is rough.
In that context, there’s perhaps no better time for New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci to hit readers with a new Memory Man book. WALK THE WIRE sees the return of fan favorite Amos Decker, the “beer-and-wings everyman” with a “kick-ass memory,” who this time is tasked with solving a gruesome murder in a booming Dakota oil town.
As with any Baldacci thriller, the mystery at the core of WALK THE WIRE will keep the pages turning, but this sixth installment of the series also demonstrates significant growth in a character that readers simply can’t get enough of. Baldacci says navigating that balance is tricky.
“I don’t want to pull the curtain on this guy completely open, because the magic tends to fade,” he says. “In this book, I wanted the reader to see him as he usually is: totally focused on the search for a killer and the truth. But bringing a family member into the story was a device allowing me to show another side of Decker.”
Baldacci weaves in more of Decker’s history than in previous books. And in the end, Decker must make a difficult and personal decision—which certainly shows significant and dramatic character evolution. But Baldacci holds just enough back to provide assurance that he’s far from done with this character. (Whew.)
“I have to do that with each book, otherwise he would just stagnate,” he says. “But Decker has to be Decker, at least for the main plot.”
In WALK THE WIRE, that means Decker’s insatiable desire to find out the truth, and his ability to see things that other people don’t, allows him to identify the “oddities” surrounding the death of a woman whose body was expertly autopsied and then dumped out in the open. The murder—and subsequent deaths—are somehow connected to the sudden growth of a community on the verge of a second gold rush.
Baldacci layers in enough details to bolster the authenticity of the plot, but like any master of the genre, he never lets the research detract from the story. For WALK THE WIRE, Baldacci talked to a number of people connected to the fracking industry, earning more than a few nuggets of interesting tidbits.
“What shocked me the most was that with all the economic booms and busts they’ve had up there, people still flock there to spin the roulette wheel one more time,” he says. “I understand the high pay and all, but it seems so fleeting. And the other thing was the gas flares. They are burning pure methane for free and filling the atmosphere with CO2 because they can’t make enough money shipping it out. I can envision outraged environmentalists going around with giant water cannons to take those suckers out!”
That doesn’t happen in this book, obviously, but Baldacci gives readers some unexpected treats in WALK THE WIRE—a couple of characters fans will recognize from other series. You’ll have to devour the book to know which ones, but Baldacci says he considered the idea at his readers’ requests.
“This plot, because of the stakes involved, really portended to deploying these other series characters,” he says. “It had to be plausible, though. I don’t want any Tina Fey eye-roll GIFs coming my way. I get enough of those from my wife, daughter, and assistants.”
In all seriousness, Baldacci makes it work, serving the storyline in WALK THE WIRE while also teasing us with the other characters we’re anxious to read more from. To that end, Baldacci is alternating his weeks throughout 2020 by working on both a new Atlee Pine thriller and a follow-up to last year’s breathtaking series starter, One Good Deed, featuring Aloysius Archer. Baldacci is still pinching himself on how well that character has resonated with fans.
“I had no idea how folks would react to such a different sort of story, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “I’m loving exploring the late 1940s. It was such a transition period for the world in general and America in particular. After the horrors of a long war, people just wanted a fresh start and to be happy and live in peace. Not too much to ask, but power-driven madmen just keep getting in the way. In the new novel Archer is off to the West Coast to try to become a PI. I just finished reading the rest of Raymond Chandler’s novels and I marvel at his muscular and completely original prose. The guy deserved every accolade he received and then some. If I get anywhere close to that level, I’ll be one happy writer.”
The only way to achieve that, of course, is to keep writing. Which is what he would advise of aspiring scribes, even in these unprecedented times of uncertainty.
“Many wonderful novels have been born from terrible and real events. Wars, natural disasters, terrorist events, pandemics like now; all can provide inspiration,” he says. “If you have an interest in writing, start small and examine your own personal feelings and perspectives about what we’re all living through, which will lend both intimacy and realism to any story you may want to write. Small details can burn bright when presented from the gut, from experience, with passion.
“There may be one aspect of this nightmare where you see an opportunity to shine the light. The state of our healthcare system, the heroism of long-retired medical professionals coming back to help, the haunting spectacle of normally vibrant Times Square empty, the helpless image of an exhausted doctor having to make life-and-death decisions too many times in a day for any human to be able to process. You can press your face against the glass of this sucker and see what ‘you’ see, which may be very different from someone else. Survival is a strong human motivator.”
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