September 1996: "It took a split second, although to Secret Service Agent Sean King it seemed like the longest split second ever." King was protecting presidential candidate Clyde Ritter at a rally that was supposed to be low key. When the crowd moved closer to the guest of honor, King moved closer too and then he heard something --- a bang that sounded like a dropped book. The crowd panicked, the room exploded into chaos and Ritter was lying by King's feet, shot right through the heart.
Following this tragic incident, King retired from the Secret Service in disgrace. Over time he made a new life for himself. He became a small town attorney who built a dream house on the banks of a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia far away from politics, government and guns.
Eight years later, another election is on the calendar and candidate John Bruno decides to take a side trip to pay his respects to a dead friend. His protector, Secret Service Agent Michelle Maxwell, is furious and frustrated, but she capitulates to his demands in order to keep as close to their schedule as possible. While Maxwell is counting the days until the election when her fast track career could put her in the White House guarding the president, she knows that sometimes one has to break protocol. Or do they?
Once there, Bruno angrily refuses to listen to Maxwell, who insists she will not leave his side. But his tantrum is easier to assuage if Maxwell again defers to him, so she allows him to enter the funeral parlor room alone. Then the unthinkable happens --- Bruno vanishes --- and as had happened to King, Maxwell is turned into a scapegoat and her career is over.
While King watches the news about the candidate's disappearance, he understands exactly what will happen to Maxwell --- she is going to be hung out to dry the same way he had. He then makes his way to his "day job" and finds a corpse in his office.
A few days later, Maxwell begins to research the events that led to King's downfall. She reads the material, studies the photographs and listens to the videotape. She listens so closely that she hears a sound --- a familiar noise that is eerily out of place. She knows that something is very wrong with what she has seen and heard. She feels an instinctive and overwhelming connection to King and decides to seek him out.
King listens as she tells him what she has discovered: confirmation of his legitimate distraction eight years before when a bullet killed a candidate and his bodyguard. Neither of them can ignore what they both now know --- especially since he is under investigation for the murder of the man in his office. The two ex-agents decide to work together and begin an odyssey that will take them down the dark halls of Washington politics, bring them into contact with the Federal Marshall Service, and push them forward into a vast conspiracy that was set in motion long before they came on the scene.
If you have a passion for intellectual thrillers whose architecture is erected like a puzzle that is superbly limned with suspense and the action is reminiscent of yesterday's news, SPLIT SECOND is an absolute must-read. All of David Baldacci's previous eight books have soared to the top of everyone's bestseller list and his oeuvre speaks to his talent, imagination, prose and ability to tell a story that is convincing, entertaining, fascinating and makes readers feel that they are on a magical mystery tour. SPLIT SECOND tells a very complex tale that will provoke readers to think about current issues in government and offers interesting glimpses into how the Secret Service works.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011