116 of 123 people found the following review helpful
I have been a big fan of David Baldacci from the very beginning and have been impressed with the consistent quality of his work. Unfortunately, with his last three books, he now seems to be sacrificing quality for quantity and Simple Genius is a disappointment.
Baldacci brings back two former Secret Service agents, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. These two appeared previously in Split Second and Hour Game and are now private investigators. Simple Genius opens with Michelle Maxwell having a meltdown--the result of some long-repressed childhood memory. Meanwhile, King is hired by a super-secret company to investigate the death of one of their top mathematicians (which happens on CIA property). King stays at the company headquarters called Babbage Town, where he meets a whole host of scientists who are on the verge of some earth-changing discoveries. But he's not at Babbage Town very long before someone else ends of dead. This case will pit King against the FBI, the CIA and unknown spies and will involve drug dealing, secret codes, illegal detainments, illegal torture, buried treasure and an 11 year old autistic genius. Yup--it's that's hokey. While King is battling all these things, it is uncertain whether Maxwell will be able to pull through for him.
I really liked King and Maxwell in Baldacci's previous books. But in Simple Genius, they're just too one dimensional. It also seems as if Baldacci's plots become more and more far-fetched. I wonder if he's now writing books because he has to meet a deadline and not because he has a riveting story to tell. Baldacci is still much better than many mystery writers today. Unfortunately, I've come to expect much more from him.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2007
The seeds of Baldacci's latest novel "Simple Genius" are sowed a book earlier.
Mentally stressed beyond her ability to continue a normal life, Michelle Maxwell simply breaks down. Her horrifying experience in "Hour Game" with a boyfriend who turned out to be a serial killer and the continuing anguish of a deeply buried secret we will later learn she has carried with her since she was only six years old drives her into a potentially suicidal bar brawl with a complete stranger. Her long-time friend and investigative partner, Sean King, convinces her to check herself into a psychiatric hospital for rest, recuperation and serious examination of the demons she is encountering. Assuming full responsibility for the financial costs of this care, he desperately searches for work and accepts a contract to investigate the suicide (murder?) of Monk Turing, a quantum physicist and computer scientist working for Babbage Town, a high powered corporate think tank located across the York River from Camp Peary, a top secret CIA training facility. (That name, by the way - Turing, that is - is no coincidence!)
But like any good modern thriller, "Simple Genius" draws in far more detail, many more twists and turns, unexpected plot diversions and absorbing information than one would expect from this straightforward plot development in the opening chapters - the basics of public and private encryption keys and the related use of enormous numbers and their correspondingly huge prime factors; rogue CIA agents; the history of German POWs during WW II in New England; a treasure hunt from Colonial England and America's first days as an independent nation; the moral issues of civil rights as they apply to prisoners in the current wars on terror and drugs; hypnosis and the difficulties of diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses; and much more.
Like some of his high-powered peers in the thriller racket (Jonathan Kellerman, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child immediately come to mind), Baldacci's side bars on science, history, geography and politics are diverting, informative, interesting and entertaining without interrupting the timing and flow of the plot. This has got to be an art in its own right!
Highly recommended summer escapist reading! If you enjoy thrillers, you won't be sorry for taking a copy of this one to the beach or the cottage with you. And, thankfully, the door is left wide open for return appearances by Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
One of the problems with the present national malaise about the War on Terror, is that the stream of revelations about certain practices in which our government engages contributes to the plot lines of new thrillers.
Here is a partial list-drug smuggling, extraordinary renditions, collateral damage, kidnapping, torture, waterboarding, and black ops. All of these find there way into David Baldacci's Simple Genius along with repressed memory, codebreaking, martial arts, autism, secret tunnels, suicide, martial infidelity and psychiatry.
This books reminds me of one of those silent films of the 1920's where the heroine would escape a burning building, only to be tied to the railroad track. She always escapes but only to find herself ensnared in another escape-proof situation.
Baldacci is too good a writer to fall into the kind of formulaic claptrap this book presents. Less time with the "thrill a minute" stuff and more with character would have better served Baldacci and his loyal readers.
58 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2007
I started reading Baldacci with his very good "The Camel Club" and have slowly been working through his back list. Besides being one of the sexiest thriller writers alive, he also knows how to write compelling stories that keep me turning the pages. I was thrilled to get an advance copy of "Simple Genius" a few weeks ago. I hate to have to report though that this book felt a bit flat to me. The story brings back Sean King and Michelle Maxwell from "Split Second" which I have not read and could possibly had an effect on my view of the book but I don't think so. Michelle seems to have some sort of suicidal wish, which comes to a head when she lets a big oaf at a local tavern beat her into a stupor. With King's pushing she enters a treatment center to try and discover what terrible secrete is eating at her soul--but she is not a willing subject. At the same time Sean is also investigating the death of a scientist at a mysterious top secrete CIA installation. In the end I found the pacing very flat and the awaited trademark Baldacci plot twists were never quite delivered. Not a bad book, but not his best. If your new to Baldacci I recommend you read the "The Camel Club" or "Absolute Power" first.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2007
David Baldacci former Secret Services Agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell should have stayed in finding.
Simple Genius, thir third novel as characters, leaves much to be desired. The heroes of Baldacci's Split Second and Hour Game make their third appearance in a Baldacci novel, we are told on the book jacket "as you've never seen them before."
That is true. But in my humble opinion, they would have been better suited if they turned down this appearance. Baldacci wrote a great novel with his first, Absolute Power. Since then, it has been downhill. While I am sure he has rung the register with his successive books, the reading public would have been better served if he remained a practicing attorney.
It is too bad. Baldacci has enormous talent. He is capable of writing great novels. At his current pace, however it is not happening. Perhaps it is time to reconsider his pace. More time in thought may result in better reads. I finished this one, but it was a stretch.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2007
You've heard the adage, "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
Now, try this: "Too many plots spoil the book."
David Baldacci ruined his latest offering by overloading it with too many plots, strange twists and red herrings.
Let's start with the plots. In the first few pages, one of Baldacci's main characters does a great imitation of a suicide attempt. She ends up staring at a long time in therapy.
Then, the author sends his other main character to look into the real suicide of a top-notch quantum physicist.
Will the partner get well with the help of a Hell's Angels-wannabe therapist?
Did the genius really off himself or did he have help?
What's going on in the strange place/think tank where the genius lived?
Had Baldacci addressed just these three issues, the "broth" would have stayed clear, clean and crisp.
But, no. He had to keep adding stuff.
What of the departed's strange child, left in the care of a woman with an aluminum leg? Who is the mysterious woman in the bar? Why does the government seem to be the enemy? Who's the grizzled Viet Nam vet who seems determined to bring our hero down?
As if this wasn't enough, Baldacci starts with the red herrings.
Why did the secondary character end up at the bottom of his bathtub? What does the leader of the think tank have to do with the drowning? What is going on at the Naval Reserve just across the river? Can the think tank crack an ancient code? Will they be able to create an atomic computer? Will a treasure chest full of gold and jewels ever be found?
The final question here is: Who cares?
Baldacci is better than this. "Simple Genius" is a perfect example of overkill (pun intended): Too many plots; too many twists; too many red herrings that leave the reader with a colossal headache from trying to keep up with it all.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2007
Simple Genius is a little cluttered and a little clunky but Baldacci does a reasonable job of building action and suspense and, despite myself, I found myself turning pages.
The novel's downfall lies primarily in the pointless diversions from the principle plot. The principal plot involves the investigation into the mysterious death of a scientist whose body is found on the grounds of a secret CIA facility called Camp Peary.
The diversions both involve Michelle Maxwell, a former Secret Service agent. Michelle has an apparent `death wish' and her reckless behavior lands her in a psychiatric facility. Subplot #1 involves Michelle sneaking around hallways after `lights out' when she becomes suspicious of one of the staff on the ward. Subplot #2 involves delving into her troubled past to find out why she is a self destructive slob. The funny business on the ward is pretty dumb and its only purpose seems to be to give Michelle something to do during the first part of the novel while her partner Sean is investigating the strange events at Camp Peary. As for unlocking the key to Michelle's psyche and finding out what childhood trauma made her the mentally unstable woman she is today - it just didn't interest me. I would have enjoyed Simple Genius a little more if Baldacci had stayed focused on the CIA story line.
As for the main plot - it's a little far fetched but it kept me turning pages. There are some plot holes and a few developments that are hard to believe. For example, why would the killers leave the scientist's dead body on CIA property when they could easily have made him disappear, or at least tossed him on the other side of the river? Having the body found in Camp Peary resulted in nosy investigators like Sean and Michelle stumbling onto all sorts of things they were never meant to see. Michelle and Sean have to make some pretty huge leaps in deductive reasoning to connect the dots and solve the mysteries at Camp Peary but if you are willing to overlook a few things, this is a reasonably entertaining ride.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2007
I've read almost all of Baldacci's books -- and eagerly awaited Simple Genius. Previously he had engaging plots, decent dialogue, and solid characters. In this book, Baldacci fell way short of his previous works. The dialogue was trite -- sometimes making me cringe. The main characters were one-dimensional and predictable. I like books that have returning characters -- but will wait next time to see others' reviews before purchasing his next book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2007
Ingredients for an exciting read: Numbers. Codes. Secrets. CIA. FBI. DEA. Good guys--maybe. Bad guys--maybe. Add a dash of intrigue, drama and a smattering of sexual tease. Blend former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. Serve with crisp writing and expectation. Results: another David Baldacci thriller.
Simple Genius is at times a scary book. Getting deeper into to the story--actually being drawn into it--one might wonder just how much goes on with the secret doings of government.
At the beginning, there are two stories being told. Michelle is going through some serious personal issues that push her to the brink of self destruction. Her partner, Sean, arranges to have her cared for. This includes voluntarily admitting herself to a special care facility--we don't want to call it a nut house, although she might. While there, she busts a drug operation. Finally tiring of being analyzed and dealing with psychobabble, she checks herself out to help Sean who needs all the help he can get.
A scientist from a super secret clandestine laboratory has been found dead on an equally sensitive CIA installation across the river. Sean is sent to investigate what is called a suicide. It isn't long before he is involved with mathematicians, physicists, spies and field agents in battle gear.
A brilliant young girl is turned into a human code desperately trying to give clues to her father's death in the only way she knows: numbers. Trying to solve the crime opens doors on things long hidden and unknown.
Early on, Sean's investigation is complicated because of his concern about partner and friend Michelle who is dealing with her own childhood demons after almost fulfilling a death wish.
As the story unfolds, Sean--later joined by Michelle--soon becomes mired into a world unfamiliar to him. Inhabitants of Babbage Town are all geniuses who live, work and talk numbers, codes and quantum computers. Across the York River are the spooks. Camp Peary Naval Reservation is a highly secure CIA installation where unscheduled darkened big jets land in the late hours. This is where one of the Babbage Town geniuses is found dead.
Sean King and Michelle Maxwell carry out the plot with agility and enough action to keep any Baldacci fan turning pages.
Baldacci's writing style is fast paced and Simple Genius is another example of that style. At the same time, he deftly weaves intrigue and suspected (suspected?) government shenanigans. At any moment, one might expect the Camel Club--Baldacci's ex-operative characters who appear again in a soon-to-be-released new novel--to pop into the scene.
A lawyer, David Baldacci succeeds in writing stories outside his profession. This makes for a refreshing and entertaining read.
Caution: Don't read the Author's Note at the end of the book before you read the novel. If you do, you'll have Sean King, Michelle Maxwell and the Camel Club boys knocking at your door.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Good News is that Sean and Michelle are back, and I hope they are here to stay! Enough with the Camels. Anyway, Simple Genius is a good mystery and NOT a thriller. It is well written and keeps the reader engaged. There is plenty of action but it is generally low keyed and NOT the focus of the story. The plot is actually twofold; a mystery of why different physicists were killed, and what is the deep psychological trauma that haunts Michelle?
The main thesis is what is going on at Babbage Town and why are elite mathematicians and physicists dying? What earth shattering concepts are they working on; and what is the connection between Babbage Town and the main CIA training facility known as the "Farm", located just across the York River in Virginia? The deeper Sean and Michelle probe, the more layers upon layers of disinformation and mystery they encounter.
Add to the main thesis Michelle's secret, deep psychological childhood mystery and you have several intersecting stories that collide in an amazing finish.
Mr. Baldacci does a good job keeping the reader involved and he should stick to this kind of storyline. I hope the relationship between Sean and Michelle is developed in future novels. Generally, character development was better in this book than in his past efforts and I hope he takes Sean and Michelle to the next level; they deserve it.
No gratuitous language, violence, or sex. Good solid read and recommended to take along on that Summer vacation.