Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci - book review: Fast-paced, gripping and with a shocking twist in the tail

Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
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With over forty novels to his name – including the thrilling Will Robie and Amos Decker series – David Baldacci has scored himself a first!

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Long Road to Mercy is the first book in a new series starring Baldacci’s first female lead… a complex, compelling, kick-ass FBI agent who looks set to leave the boys standing.

Atlee Pine – a near-on six foot Amazonian woman haunted by the kidnapping of her twin sister Mercy when they were just six – is an inspirational heroine for the 21st century, beautifully imagined and created by one of America’s best-loved and best-selling authors.

In her first outing, we find Atlee confronting a monster from her past and desperately hunting a wickedly clever killer in the present.

‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Catch a tiger by its toe.’ Those words are seared into Atlee Pine’s memory… it was the kidnapper’s chilling rhyme as he chose between six-year-old Atlee and her twin sister, Mercy, when he broke into the bedroom of their home in Andersonville, Georgia. Atlee was spared but Mercy has never been seen since.

Almost three decades after that terrifying night, Atlee works for the FBI. She is the lone agent in Shattered Rock, Arizona, a resident agency responsible for protecting the Grand Canyon and covering a vast territory.

Atlee, who pumps iron regularly to keep herself strong, tough and confident in a man’s world, enjoys the outdoor life and her privacy so it suits her to be miles away from other federal law enforcement agents, with just her loyal secretary, 60-year-old Carol Blum, as her helper.

But, deep in her heart, Atlee has never given up the search for her sister and, racked with survivor’s guilt, she has spent her life hunting down those who hurt others. And she is convinced that notorious serial killer Daniel James Tor, one of the most dangerous and sadistic human predators on earth, knows what happened to Mercy.

Tor, who was caught and convicted of other murders, is incarcerated in a high-security prison in Colorado and Atlee is determined to visit him and make him talk.

Meanwhile, she is called out to investigate a case in the Grand Canyon when a mule used as transport by visiting trekkers is found dead with strange carvings on its body, and its rider missing. But it soon seems clear that the lost tourist, Benjamin Priest, had something more clandestine than sightseeing in mind. And just as Atlee begins to put together clues pointing to a terrifying plot, she is abruptly called off the case.

It seems that Atlee will now have to confront a new threat… and an old nightmare.

Baldacci is on top form with his new rising star in a multi-layered plot that crackles with energy and suspense, and twists and turns through terrifying murders, spine-tingling danger, and deadly political subterfuge that stretches far beyond the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Never far away from all the action is the doggedly determined Atlee, a woman for all seasons who does not flinch from rushing in where angels fear to tread… but is certainly no fool.

Mentally torn apart by the survivor’s guilt that drives her to relentlessly pursue the search for her long-lost twin, and to nail her ruthless kidnapper, Atlee is a classic loner. Shorn of ambition by traumas in the past, she keeps her vulnerability under careful wraps and carves out her own trail in a straightforward quest for truth and justice.

Fast-paced, gripping and with a shocking twist in the tail, Atlee’s debut will leave Baldacci fans counting down to her next extraordinary adventure.

(Macmillan, hardback, £18.99)