David Baldacci’s fifth book in the King & Maxwell series came out in 2011. The story in The Sixth Man picks up where First Family left off. Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have again taken on more than they expected when they venture up to Maine to help out King’s old mentor on a case. A brilliant but troubled genius has been accused of mass murder. The man is Edgar Roy who theoretically worked for the IRS. In reality though, his job was far more complex than that. He was recruited to help the intelligence community in ways that are completely unimaginable. He was the only person in the country, and probably the world, who could do the job for which he was hired. He was part of something known as the E-Program, and he was the only E-Six ever discovered after a few E-Fives went down in flames.
Roy was able to do something beyond comprehension. He could process the massive amounts of intelligence information streaming across something known as “The Wall.” The Wall streamed every intelligence feed across the globe in a burr of images and text. From the stream, Roy could make connections and provide recommendations on intelligence actions across unlike anything ever done before. He could process the information faster and more accurately than the most powerful computer. Instead of doing this critical work, he was sitting in a federal prison in a remote part of Maine accused of killing six people and burying them in his barn. King and Maxwell were summoned by Roy’s attorney, Ted Bergin, to help with the case to prove that Roy didn’t kill anyone. Unfortunately, when King and Maxwell are on their way to meet with Bergin, they find him dead in his car along the side of a deserted road, most likely the victim of a murder himself. From there, they become embroiled with the local and state police along with the FBI given the high profile nature of the case that Bergin was defending.
That’s only the beginning. As with most Baldacci stories, there are numerous puzzles to solve involving government intrigue, betrayals, and untoward dangers. King and Maxwell are a team to be reckoned with as they look beyond the surface to uncover the truth. They have allies of which they are unaware, and they start to suspect almost everyone along the way. Before long, they develop a fairly comprehensive picture of what’s going on while being assailed from all sides.
Some of the technology Baldacci includes is beyond our current capabilities, fortunately, although it is fascinating to contemplate. Although not a science fiction story, some of the advanced technology that Baldacci invokes could easily fit into that genre. He has a flair for writing multidimensional characters, especially when he’s attempting to misdirect readers from identifying the villains too early. In this current book, some of the twists come very late without any identifiable preamble, and as always, there are some excruciatingly tense moments. Because there is another book in the series – King and Maxwell – it’s safe to assume that our heroes survive this case in some fashion even though it gets rather bleak along the way.
The final betrayal in the story is more contrived than usual given the lack of insight into the possibility. The character involved reads more like two separate people making that turnabout less believable, albeit necessary for the story’s resolution to work.
The Sixth Man paints an interesting picture of the world of government contracting as well. The program at issue is contracted by the government but implemented by a brilliant tech mogul who has everything to lose if King and Maxwell can’t solve the case. His competitor has much at stake as well, and the dynamic between the two contractors along with their relationship with their government contact is somewhat unstable. One can only hope that the real world doesn’t actually work that way. If it does, we have a lot more to worry about than we thought. The more interesting aspect is that although written in 2011, the situation surrounding the government official in the story could easily fit into the administration that took power in 2017.
Readers forge a deeper understanding of the relationship between King and Maxwell throughout this series. This current installment has fewer glimpses back to previous cases from the earlier books, although a few crucial formative details are discussed. The majority of the story is focused on the current case and the future of their partnership which grows stronger by the day despite the dangers they face, or possibly because of them.
King and Maxwell, even though they are no longer in government service, still read like the public servants they once were when they were part of the Secret Service. They are dedicated to doing what’s right, even if that means working around the system sometimes.
Baldacci adds some humor to lighten a few of the darker moments, but at its core The Sixth Man is a wild adventure with bigger than life heroes and villains. The man at the center of the story is a hero, despite his humble position and his determination not to engage until he has to. He’s the client, and in the end, everything King and Maxwell do is to help him even though they aren’t entirely sure at the outset whether he committed the crimes with which he is charged. Despite his brilliance, their client is socially limited even though his intellect would put the greatest scientific minds in history to shame. Baldacci falls back on an old trope in this one – that of an autistic savant with a pure heart. Readers warm up to Roy before it’s entirely clear whether or not he’s guilty, and Sean in particular is conflicted. As a former Secret Service agent, he’s focused on ensuring the guilty are held accountable. As an attorney, he recognizes that everyone deserves a defense, and finding the truth is crucial. As a private investigator, he’s focused on the truth. Having a client who won’t talk to him, at least at first, makes finding that truth more difficult.
After weaving through all the twists and turns, the final resolution is satisfying, and the book is hard to put down. Each of the books in the King & Maxwell series can stand alone, but they are richer if the series is read in order. That order includes:
- Split Second
- Hour Game
- Simple Genius
- First Family
- The Sixth Man
- King and Maxwell
The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci
The law applies to everyone, even the ‘First Family’
It only take a ‘Split Second’
Breaking the code