David Baldacci's new novel, "The Forgotten," is slow, mostly boring and inhabited by paper-thin characters. Sorry. I had to get that out of the way. It's not that I'm not a fan of Baldacci's work. In fact, the last hundred or so pages of "The Forgotten" actually show what a skilled novelist he really is.
However, "The Forgotten" provides forgettable, bland characters and throws them in what appears for a long time to be a simple and forgettable situation. For a book that is 422 pages and almost 20 bucks, I think people need a little more incentive.
The set up for the novel is simple; way too simple. John Puller is an ex-Ranger and current Army investigator. He's a giant standing at almost seven feet tall. He goes to see his father, a retired general, who shows him a letter sent by his aunt from Paradise, Fla. The woman is scared of something but will not reveal what. So Puller decides he has a new mission. He heads down to Florida and finds his aunt dead. The investigator commences the investigation.
And that's really it. Baldacci drops the ball as far as plotting goes for the first 200 or so pages. We are introduced to a few other characters, including another giant bent on some sort of revenge mission, but we are given no details about history or motivations, and the subplot never goes anywhere. For over 200 pages, it's a story about a superhero trying to solve his aunt's death by chasing pointless dead ends in a retirement community. Weak.
While reading "The Forgotten" I couldn't help but think of another giant Army hero who solves crimes. Jack Reacher's Army service in Lee Child's celebrated franchise gives the protagonist both depth and a realistic past. Child brings his service across in unique ways, and the character feels real no matter how many impossible tasks he completes. Puller's service, on the other hand, is treated with nothing but simplicity. Sure, Baldacci mentions it enough, but there is never anything below the surface to make Puller seem alive and vibrant either mentally or physically.
The other characters feel just as flat. The second giant, named Mecho, is given no back story and is simply a mysterious foreigner for the majority of the novel. Then there's the women of "The Forgotten" who all fall at the feet of these giant men. Baldacci probably does the best when writing his female characters here. Too bad they are not the focus of the novel.
When the story finally catches up to itself and is about more than a guy trying to solve his aunt's murder, "The Forgotten" picks up. In fact, the last hundred or so pages give the novel some of its only credibility (not that they are without flaws). When all of Baldacci's characters are brought together, they feel alive for the first time. Through their interactions we feel a sense of who they are at long last. There's also a good deal of hard-hitting action which doesn't hurt.
Alas, Baldacci can't help himself when it comes to some telling descriptions. The bad guy ends up being a rich guy (how original), and Baldacci gives him some sort of twisted mentality which can only be described as a liberal's extreme fantasy of how a conservative's mind must work.
Baldacci gives in to some lazy stereotypes in "The Forgotten" and only brings his story to life in its third act.