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Long Road to Mercy: An Atlee Pine Thriller

Review

Long Road to Mercy: An Atlee Pine Thriller

FBI agent Atlee Pine is the most recent creation from David Baldacci’s fertile imagination, and LONG ROAD TO MERCY marks the debut of a new series. Pine is an incredibly complex character, and her backstory is so powerful and engaging that you cannot help but refer back to it with every decision you see her making throughout the novel. She is not completely broken per se, but is far from whole.

We begin with Pine still struggling with the tragedy that has shaped her life and probably formed the impetus for her career with the FBI. She reflects that of all the lowlifes she has seen behind bars, none have come close to Daniel James Tor, perhaps the most sadistic serial killer of this or any generation. More personally for Pine, he is the monster who beat her skull when she was just six years old and kidnapped her twin sister, Mercy, who hasn’t been seen since.

It is often said that there is a special bond between twins and that no other human relationship can ever be closer. This was apparently the case with Pine and her sister. Losing Mercy at such a young age and in such an evil fashion has clearly left physical and mental scars on Pine that will not go away. She confronts Tor in an effort to make him remember Mercy and divulge any details he may have stored away. The fact that he will not give her what she wants frustrates her even more.

"I find it remarkable that [Baldacci] is able to consistently create interesting characters you cannot help but like and place them in stories that are intricately plotted and never dull."

Pine has no choice but to continue to throw herself headfirst into her job. For her next case, she is sent to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where there exists a camp for those who want the experience of traveling to the only Wonder of the World located in the United States. Her mission is to find a tourist who has gone missing while on vacation there. Although his body is nowhere in sight, his mule has been found mutilated. Carved into the dead animal's side are the letters “j” and “k.”

With that clue not ringing bells for anyone involved in the investigation, Pine has to immerse herself in the camp and work with the other visitors, employees and park rangers who were there at the time of the disappearance. The missing man is Benjamin Priest, and his background does not lend any significance to the foul play that allegedly took place. Park ranger Sam Kettler shares what he knows about the situation, which is minimal, as the Grand Canyon is just not used to crimes of any sort.

Any investigation forces Pine to reexamine her own demons. She is unable to get past the loss of her sister, and at times it feels like she pushes herself too hard, as if she is attempting to live two lives --- one for herself and the other for her twin. She thinks she may be on to something when her research reveals that two men, Jordan and Kinkaid, were explorers who discovered a hidden cave in the Grand Canyon back in 1909. Might the “j” and “k” signify them and their discovery?

A big curveball is thrown at the investigation when it is revealed that Benjamin Priest is not the missing man. Not only does the victim’s true identity need to be discovered, a link must be made to Priest. Getting nowhere in the Grand Canyon forces Pine back to her office. She and her assistant, Carol Blum, embark on a road trip across the country all the way to the Washington, D.C. area. Their purpose is to investigate a few items that Pine turned up that may reflect on a government secret. The problem is that she seems to be turned away at every instance and now is forced to go rogue just to get some answers.

The ladies’ road trip, which is compared by Pine and Blum to Thelma & Louise, is the best part of the novel and involves one dangerous pitfall after another. At the end of the line is a huge government plot that may involve nukes possibly hidden in the Grand Canyon. Pine takes a huge risk with her life, as well as with Blum's, by pursuing this --- but the FBI should have recognized that Pine is an extremely driven individual who never takes “no” for an answer. Things rocket forward to a stunning and unpredictable conclusion.

I am probably repeating myself from prior reviews, but I am in awe of David Baldacci. Ever since he burst onto the scene with the incredible ABSOLUTE POWER decades ago, he has continued to ramp up his writing and seems to be publishing two or more books each year. Quite frankly, what separates Baldacci from other prolific writers is that each of his novels never fails to impress. He does not ever phone it in, and I find it remarkable that he is able to consistently create interesting characters you cannot help but like and place them in stories that are intricately plotted and never dull. Here's hoping that we see more of Atlee Pine very soon and that she can finally find peace with the memory of Mercy.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 16, 2018

Long Road to Mercy: An Atlee Pine Thriller
by David Baldacci

  • Publication Date: November 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538761572
  • ISBN-13: 9781538761571