After the last few years’ relative duds by Baldacci, I picked up The Whole Truth at a yard sale and reminded myself that my once favorite author definitely has what it takes, but needs to get over his own popularity and his publisher’s pressures to churn out the moneymakers, and go back to writing good books. This 2008 novel about a neo-Cold War cooked up by a psychotic arms dealer and a “perception management” firm had shivers running down my spine.
I won’t say this is one of Baldacci’s best. Strains of Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne clearly came through in Baldacci’s hero Shaw, a man with a shadowy past, no first name, killing skills no man should have, a terrifying thirst for revenge, and the apparent ability to survive anything thrown at him. But what makes The Whole Truth worth the read is the author’s devastating portrayal of how the perceptions of entire nations can be so easily manipulated by those with sufficient money and resources to turn lies into truth. The media, the politicians, the governments, and entire populations are both the targets and instruments of the “perception managers.”
Step one: The posting of a Youtube video allegedly portraying the warnings of a (since-murdered) Russian dissident whose family has been wiped out by the Russian government goes instantly viral, and with the help of carefully planted articles, blogs, and commentaries in the global media, catches the wave of lingering Cold War prejudices around the world and the “Red Menace” scenario is launched. Instantly, demonstrations surface in American and European cities demanding sanctions against Russia, governments issues condemnations, the Russian government issues outraged protests, and the focus of the world’s problems suddenly falls on our old Cold War nemesis. New arms deals get negotiated on all sides. Step two: Employees at a London think tank secretly financed by China are inexplicably massacred, evidence of the “Red Menace” conspiracy is discovered in its computers, and the basis for a China-Russia conflagration is laid. Sabers rattle, and our megalomaniac arms dealer chortles with glee and twirls his mustache while preparing to rake in the billions.
It turns out that only Shaw and an alcoholic washed-out reporter named Katie James can stop the world from blowing up, and how they manage it–with a little help from a very nasty secret black-ops U.S. government operation not unlike Ludlum’s Treadstone–is where the bloody action occurs. As I said, not great Baldacci but the expose of how the world can be so easily manipulated was all too believable and brought to mind the Nigerian “yellowcake” lies which first got the U.S. into the war in Iraq or the more recent Ukraine manipulations which could have drawn us into a war with Russia. For those of you still naive enough to believe everything you read in the newspapers or see on the internet, read this and then think twice about what’s going on around you.