Book Review: The Compartmentalized Man

Available from Rainy Day Books and other fine booksellers.
Last week I wrote about Joe Pike, the “Closed Man.”  This week’s protagonist, Will Robie, takes the “unemotional man” thing a step even farther.
Will Robie isn’t just closed: he’s a stone-cold hit man with major skills and apparent ice water for blood . . . except he’s just turned forty, and without exactly noticing it, he’s started to have a midlife crisis.
You might well ask, “How the heck can you have a midlife crisis without noticing it?”  It’s a pretty amazing feat of compartmentalization going on, there, truly.
I enjoyed watching Baldacci pull it off.  He hits just the right balance.
Robie notices that he’s occasionally experiencing certain disquieting reactions.  You or I would call them “normal emotions,” but his reaction is essentially to think something on the order of damn, that makes me uncomfortable, and then he puts up a new wall.
Author David Baldacci in 
a recent photo.

If all he had to deal with were straightforward jobs, clean and cold, he might get away with this approach.  Unfortunately for Robie, life keeps putting challenging women in his path.

First there’s Julie, a young teenager in whom Robie is surprised to find a number of admirable qualities.  He rescues her, and subsequently feels responsible for her—even though this feeling of responsibility irritates, puzzles, and burdens him in unaccustomed ways.  Somehow, that particular wall keeps falling over.
Then there’s Nikki Vance, a tough-minded, perceptive FBI agent with whom he regularly locks horns, but with whom he also has to cooperate, if he’s going to find up who tried to set him up, then kill him.
And finally there’s his neighbor Annie Lambert, with whom he has possibly one of the most weirdly passionless liaisons I’ve ever read about, even though at one point they end up in bed with each other.  And man, is THAT ever confusing for poor Will Robie, who apparently hasn’t had sex (at least not with a partner) in years!
Annie Lambert actually is my biggest complaint about this book.  Her role in the climax (of the STORY—not the other presumed climax, which we don’t get to see) was one I saw coming, and hoped I was wrong—but no, Baldacci went there. 
The other difficulty with the ending is the emotional impact of the dramatic “reveal” at the climax.  That impact is seriously blunted by the fact that the viewpoint character, through whose eyes we are seeing the action, is doing everything in his power NOT to have an emotional reaction.
All things considered, however, I’d still recommend The Innocent. It’s a good read, a good mystery, and an interesting, challenging character portrayal that’s handled well.   

IMAGE CREDITS: Cover image for the book is courtesy of Rainy Day Books.  The photo of David Baldacci is from the Feb. 27, 2014 issue of Barnes & Nobles online Review.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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