David Baldacci. Warner Books Inc, $32 (513pp) ISBN 978-0-446-52259-5
The title doesn't refer to Baldacci but it could, as the author of last year's not-so-hot Total Control sets a wildfire of a thriller that rivals his Absolute Power for suspense, excitement and bankability. The premise is another Baldacci blockbuster: the national lottery has been fixed 12 times by a man who demands access to his handpicked winners' windfalls and who now, to protect his secret, aims to kill the last--and lovable--illicit winner, LuAnn Tyler. To save her baby girl from a hardscrabble life, Bright, beautiful and dirt poor LuAnn accepts the offer of the mystery man known as Jackson to reap nearly $100 million in a forthcoming drawing. Jackson is a marvelous mad hatter of a villain who's not only a modern Moriarity but a master of disguise; his ability to shift from old to young, male to female springs many of the novel's twists and enhances its made-for-the-movies air. Because LuAnn is accidentally implicated in a murder just before the rigged drawing, Jackson orders her to flee the country forever. After 10 years of wealthy, lonesome exile she returns, however. When Jackson finds out, he goes for the jugular. The ensuing mayhem draws in press, the FBI and the White House, sees LuAnn herself shift from hunted to huntress (with help from a romantic interest), and will have readers gasping. Baldacci recycles himself a bit here--he played the mom-and-daughter in-peril gambit in Total Control, and the sympathetic outlaw ploy in Absolute Power--and, again, his prose is workaday and his plotting mercilessly melodramatic. His strong characters and sheer Grisham-like exuberance--unlike many thrillers, this is flat-out fun to read--will, however, thrust the novel toward the top of the charts. 500,000 first printing. BOMC main selection; Time Warner Audio. (Dec.) FYI: Tri-Star will release Total Control as a CBS miniseries in 1998.
Reviewed on: 01/05/1998