Hell’s Corner, released in 2010, is the fifth and final book in David Baldacci’s Camel Club series. As mentioned in a prior essay, the Camel Club is a ragtag team of eccentrics who are attuned to and intent on exposing and correcting our government’s missteps. John Carr, AKA Oliver Stone, leads the group and is a former government-trained assassin from a highly secret (and fictional) branch of the CIA.
At the outset of the story, Stone is pulled back into the government fold, though not as a Triple Six assassin since that division no longer exists. He has other skills that they desperately need, so the president makes him an offer he that cannot refuse. Stone has been living off the grid for the last thirty years or so, constantly looking over his shoulder because even his own government has been after him. After his recent retaliatory actions to remove his two biggest threats it actually has a valid reason to pursue and eliminate him. The president recognizes his value despite Stone’s sometimes rogue behavior, so he offers him the opportunity to work on a high stakes case. If successful, the president promises that he’ll allow Stone to live out the rest of his life in peace. Stone agrees and is due to embark on a grueling training course after which he’ll be put back in the field on a case he really isn’t expected to survive.
On the eve of Stone’s scheduled departure for training, he visits Lafayette Park, a place he knows well. It’s situated across from the White House, and Stone had spent years camped out on the periphery watching, protesting, and acting on things of concern. This time he just wanted a quiet evening to visit and enjoy his old haunt, but things seem a little off. The park isn’t crowded, but the people who are there don’t belong there. Suddenly he hears a motorcade, something that happens frequently, but even so that too didn’t seem quite right. Before he can figure out what’s happening, automatic weapons fire starts strafing one side of the park. A jogger running from the gunfire leaps into a hole that had been dug for a new tree being installed. A huge explosion detonates from the hole throwing Stone and another man nearby off their feet. While another park visitor escapes just before the explosion, the jogger is vaporized. The next thing Stone knows, he wakes up in a hospital room suffering from various injuries from the blast. One souvenir he retained was a tooth from the man he was thrown against when the bomb detonated. Doctors had removed the tooth from Stone’s skull which explained his bandaged head.
Before Stone can really piece together what happened, he’s pulled from his hospital room by government agents, threatened, and eventually released. As events unfold rapidly, his planned training and mission are changed on a dime. Instead of being trained and then put undercover overseas, he’s redirected into service within the intelligence sphere and paired with MI6 Agent Mary Chapman to investigate the bombing. He’s even given credentials under his assumed name of Oliver Stone which he finds slightly amusing. Everyone believes this was more than a random bombing, but they don’t know how or why it happened or who is responsible.
One of the first things that Stone and Chapman do is go back to the scene of the crime and talk with the various agencies involved. As Stone explains to Chapman, this bombing occurred within a jurisdictional nightmare, and he educates her why the area is called Hell’s Corner:
“Pennsylvania Avenue, the actual street, belongs to the D.C. metro cops. The sidewalks around Lafayette Park are the Secret Service’s turf and the park itself comes under the jurisdiction of the Park Police. Secret Service agents are actually taught to grab a person of interest from the street or park, carry him to the sidewalk and then arrest him there to prevent a pissing contest over jurisdiction.”
Stone further explains:
“The Feds and cops hate it, but they all have to dance to the same song. The explosion is a case in point. The Park Police will control the scene, but the FBI, and the ATF, because an explosive was involved, will control the investigation. And Homeland Security, Secret Service, NIC and CIA will be hovering like vultures.”
Thus begins their partnership, one that takes them in more directions than they can count. Initially, Stone tries to keep the rest of the Camel Club away from the action because he doesn’t want to put their lives in jeopardy, but eventually he finds that he needs their help. Despite the president’s assurances, he still has some enemies within the government who can do him harm without the president’s knowledge, so he’s not sure who he can trust. He trusts the Camel Club, and he trusts Chapman. Together they uncover unexpected levels of corruption and some shocking threats to national and international security including some cutting edge technological developments that terrify them. As they make progress, albeit with a few unavoidable missteps along the way, Stone and Chapman are eventually removed from the case officially. Chapman is recalled by the Home Office, and Stone’s credentials are revoked. He’s been so effective for so long without them that he quickly falls back on his carefully honed skills, and they refuse to give up. Typical of a Baldacci story, the action heats up the closer they get to the solution.
This one has a few more twists than usual, and even after the case is eventually resolved, the story isn’t quite over. Although the Camel Club’s case work comes to a heart stopping conclusion, Baldacci leaves a few lingering strands that could be taken up at a later date if he were so inclined. Alas, readers will likely never again see mention of Oliver Stone, Reuben Rhodes, Caleb Shaw, Milton Farb, Annabelle Conroy, or Alex Ford after this fateful case as Baldacci has instead pushed forward with several other adventures beyond those of the Camel Club. Even so, this final case is a doozy and will stick with readers long after they put the book back on the shelf.
The full Camel series includes:
- The Camel Club
- The Collectors
- Stone Cold
- Divine Justice
- Hell’s Corner
Hell’s Corner, by David Baldacci
Divine Justice, by David Baldacci