In 2009, David Baldacci’s fourth book in the King and Maxwell series dropped. As so many of his stories seem to be, First Family has some references that could directly apply over a decade later. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are former Secret Service agents who had to leave the service under murky circumstances in the first book in their series, Split Second. At the end of that one, they established a partnership as private investigators. They’ve maintained some of their contacts within the service and other law enforcement agencies and have since taken on some complex cases as PIs.
In First Family, they were on their way to talk with a potential client when they stumble upon a crime in progress. In a flurry of activity, a young girl is kidnapped, and her mother is murdered in their home. King and Maxwell are unable to stop the crime and get shot at when they try to intervene. Because they are on the scene at the time of the crime, they are interrogated by law enforcement as some old rivalries between the FBI and the Secret Service appear. It turns out that the girl is the First Lady’s niece – her father being the First Lady’s brother. In what seems like an odd turn of events, King is then contacted by none other than the First Lady despite the FBI already heading up the investigation. As it happens, King and the First Lady have known one another for a very long time because of a chance meeting one night when King helped her husband, then a U.S. Senator, avoid an unseemly scandal that would have prevented his ascension to president later in life, at least in a society that cared about character and fitness for the job.
The President and First Lady aren’t the only ones with secrets in their pasts in this action-filled adventure. The mystery doesn’t surround the perpetrator’s identity. The reader learns that early on even though it takes a while for the various investigators to figure it out. The mystery surrounds the motive behind the crimes – one intentional, the other a disastrous accident – along with navigating the additional complications that result. Love, hate, and every emotion in between are on display as are the wonders of science.
There’s a lot that isn’t fair as the story unfolds, and yet the villain is more sympathetic and understandable than the First Family by the time all is exposed. Through the girl’s captivity, her captor seems conflicted. He clearly doesn’t want to hurt her, but he’s also cagey about how and when she’ll be released. He understands how bright she is and brings her a wide variety of books to read. He also has her meet another captive, a woman who seems protective somehow. One time, she and the woman try to escape and discover that they are in an abandoned mine built into a remote mountain. They realize that there is no way for them to leave on their own, and they reluctantly return to their rooms.
Given the events that have transpired since the book was published, the First Family is even less sympathetic than it would have been in 2009. Baldacci deftly weaves a tale of intrigue combined with the lust for power by those who should never have it. He also provides more insight into King and Maxwell as they deal with a personal tragedy in the midst of their case that brings them closer together.
As with all Baldacci stories, some of the action is more than a little implausible, but then it’s not intended to be a true crime story. It is entertainment, and the characters are drawn bigger than life. The reader can relate to them in some ways and in others admire their fortitude. The book reads quickly with a satisfying final resolution, and it sets up future King and Maxwell stories.
A Good Reed Review also gratefully accepts donations via PayPal to help defray the costs of maintaining this site without creating paywalls.