David Baldacci is known for gripping adventure novels that can sometimes seem a bit too plausible in today’s world of perception management. In his 2008 book, The Whole Truth, he introduces a new hero, Shaw. The reluctant international intelligence agent with no first name and a mysterious past may be the only person who can unravel a manufactured crisis before it’s too late. Teaming up with Katie James, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has fallen from the top of her field and is looking to redeem herself, they desperately seek the source of the crisis de jour that begins as a humanitarian catastrophe and expands to include a London massacre that blanket the news worldwide. Which events actually happened? Who is behind these events, and why did they set them in motion?
Shaw’s devotion to duty is coerced, but his skills exceed all other agents in his organization as he manages to survive encounters that should have cost him his life many times over. The means used to keep him conscripted are the stuff of science fiction, but in the context of the story, they seem almost reasonable. He and his boss have an uneasy alliance and grudging respect for one other’s abilities, though neither knows the other’s whole story.
James gets under Shaw’s skin in a way that few people can, and over time they too develop a deep respect for one another. They also aid each in ways that nobody else can, and their collaboration brings them both to brink of annihilation.
Shaw has a vested interest in solving the case making him willing to take even more risks than usual, much to the chagrin of both James and his boss. The action moves quickly revealing a few tantalizing pieces of Shaw’s and James’ backstories along the way.
It’s even more dangerous when a beloved public figure’s true character belies their generous acts but is hidden from public scrutiny. As is also true in the real world, money drives much of the malfeasance, but that’s not the whole story. Nicolas Creel, the multibillionaire head of a major defense contractor, wants a war and sets about creating one with the help of Dick Pender, a wily perception manager, but the why behind his actions is more elusive. An obvious angle is reaping huge profits by arming the world, but that’s not Creel’s only motivation. Ideology is also a factor making Creel certain his actions are right despite being illegal no matter the jurisdiction.
While the action is centered in Europe and Asia, it sends waves rippling across the oceans involving every continent and government in a race to stop the world’s almost certain destruction.
Even though the book was written over a decade ago, the international intrigue plays off of world events that could easily be happening today. The internet age brings with it a few common threats that persevere, particularly how easy it is to manipulate a country or even the world at large with expert perception management. Powerful people can create their own truths if they can get enough of the masses to believe them no matter how outrageous their claims. The race is always whether these power mongers can achieve their goals before their deception is not only discovered but outweighed by the truth. In many ways, the book is more plausible now than it was when it was first published because of the evolution of social media and the ease of spreading propaganda. When the book was written, social media was primarily the domain of a nerdy crowd sharing their lives with friends and family in mostly innocuous ways. The platforms were largely ignored by the powerful, and advertising hadn’t reached the fever pitch that it has over the last several years. Data mining also hadn’t yet matured to allow for the targeted manipulation that is all too common today.
The story reads quickly, and the action never stops. This is the first of two books in the Shaw series so far, though each can stand alone and provide an engrossing escape despite the twinge that events like those in the book might actually be possible in today’s world.