David Baldacci’s Split Second came out in 2003 and provides the origin story behind the Sean King/Michelle Maxwell partnership. King, a former Secret Service agent, and Maxwell, a current agent, become targets of a long-running conspiracy that bring them together after similar career mishaps. King had ended his career with the service in disgrace after his protectee was executed right in front of him during a split second’s distraction. Maxwell’s charge is abducted eight years later when she leaves him alone very briefly per his request. Both were rising stars in the service. Both had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell victim to horrific events that were far more complicated and violent than they realized at the time.
Maxwell knows her service history and seeks King out after her disastrous mishap in part to find out more of the details surrounding his dismissal. She thinks that if she can understand what happened to him, she might be able to better investigate her own situation.
Since King left the service, he moved to the country and returned to his first career as an attorney. Unfortunately, his quiet little town doesn’t stay that way, and he tries to warn Maxwell off before it’s too late. King’s luck goes from bad to worse when another murder is delivered to his home entangling him in a new controversy, and because of Maxwell’s persistence, pulls her in as well. In the course of investigating the new murder along with the other two disasters, the pair uncover a conspiracy based in greed, showmanship, and corruption at levels they’d never before imagined as they put their lives in danger.
Baldacci brings disparate threads together in unexpected ways and develops King and Maxwell into an expert crime-fighting duo. Many facets of the events in Split Second shape future interactions and cases the two pursue in subsequent books. While very different in temperament and habit, they form a tight bond and develop a deep respect for one another as sharing life-threatening experiences tend to inspire. Baldacci shares much about their skills, qualifications, and likes and dislikes through the story, but there are still several aspects of their backgrounds that remain a mystery only coming to light in later adventures.
While the resolution of the related cases is a little contrived, it’s necessary to setup the foundation of the King/Maxwell partnership. It seems a natural progression for former law enforcement or protection agents to move into the world of private investigation after spending a career honing those skills. Neither originally joined the service for glory. They joined to make a positive difference. Their post-service partnership gives them more tools to set things right in a dangerous world.
The events in Split Second also serve as a warning in a sense. So many things in life can turn in an unexpected direction in a moment. Staying aware, reading the signs, and taking appropriate action are things we can all strive to incorporate to improve our lives.