Hell’s Corner

Hell's Corner_DavidBaldacci_9925138




Oliver Stone has just received the order that he is to be executed for the assassination of Senator Roger Simpson. He will not go to the electric chair or receive a lethal injection. He will receive one month of CIA refresher training and then will be dropped, with no passport or agency credentials, into the lair of a Russian drug cartel in Mexico. His orders are to find the connection between the cartel and the current Russian spy ring operating in the US. The President assures him that if he should, by some slim chance, survive the mission, his sins will be forgiven and he will be granted fair winds and following seas forever.

Stone is no fool. He is in his sixties now and knows that he has little chance of survival against a Russian gang, even if the President is supposedly providing him with agency assets. He also knows that if he refuses the mission, he will be dead before the sun rises. And he knows that no one can either grant or guarantee fair winds and following seas forever.

The next evening, a few hours before he is to report for training, Stone visits Lafayette Park, across from the White House, where he has spent so much time during the last 30 years. He has come to say his final goodbyes to that life and he is leaving without a single word of farewell to the Camel Club. He knows they would try to stop him, would try to help him, and he does not want to be stopped or helped. And he does not want them hurt by his actions and his past anymore.

Well, Stone does not get what he wants. He gets stopped, literally, when a bomb explodes in the park, yards from where he stands. He gets stopped from going on his mission to Mexico when British Intelligence convinces the President that his expertise would be better utilized in exposing the terrorist connections behind the bombing. He gets help by being given agency credentials, a badge and an MI6 agent as a partner. He gets help from the Camel Club even when he tries to push them away. And the Camel Club gets hurt anyway, with only one member of the Club left unscathed when all is said and done.

Stone, overwhelmed by guilt and slowed by age and a concussion from the bombing, begins to make mistakes. He misses little things and he misses big things. He even has to be saved from being gunned down on several occasions by his MI6 partner, Mary Chapman. And he seems to lose track of the fact that only his mission has changed, not the original order of execution.

But we know. We know the execution order has not been rescinded. We even know who has been ordered to make the hit. Even if Stone survives the terrorists, even if Stone solves the case, the order stands.

For almost 600 pages, Baldacci builds a tale of terrorism, traitorous actions and intentional misdirection of information perpetuated by multiple government agencies against each other, and thus against Stone. By the time we reach the midpoint of the book, the realization of what is to come makes the book one that you don’t want to put down, not even to sleep. But, with so many pages to go, you know that Baldacci will not make it any easier on us than he will on Stone. You know that he will realistically twist the story multiple times and that only one thing is guaranteed before the last page – the executioner will put a red laser dot on Stone’s forehead.

This story is riveting. It is emotionally sound, and it presents a scenario involving a type of terrorism that is truly chilling to the core. It speaks to lies and spies and actions versus words. It delves into the burden and the consequences of following orders given by a higher authority. It is a story about the true meaning of friendship. But in the end, it is a story about trust – trust in a person’s words and trust in a person’s actions.

This is the fifth and, presumably, last story in the Camel Club series. Fair winds and following seas, Oliver Stone!

Cover Art from Goodreads


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