The Winner

The Winner_DavidBaldacci_16082858

IT’S NOT WHO’S GOING TO DIE, IT’S WHO’S GOING TO LIVE

5 STARS

LuAnn Tyler is twenty years old and has an eight-month-old daughter, Lisa. Living in a backwoods Georgia town in a ramshackle mobile home, LuAnn is beyond poor and always has been. And the trailer belongs to the baby’s father, a young man with a love for idleness and drink but none for LuAnn or the baby.

Even though she never finished middle school, LuAnn is innately intelligent and street smart. She is also physically attractive and possesses a genetic physical strength that is belied by her lithe shape. And she loves that baby, a child she keeps immaculately clean, well-fed and never out of her sight, even as she works the night shift at the local truck stop.

Then LuAnn gets a phone call from a Mr. Jackson, offering her a short-term day job as a market sampler. But when she meets with Jackson, she discovers that the real job is to buy a single National Lottery ticket. Jackson declares, in no uncertain and very believable terms, that he can guarantee that she will be the winner of at least $50M. He also informs her that, in exchange, he will manage her winnings, provide her with a substantial yearly income and keep the rest of the profits for himself. He also tells her that, after ten years, the principal will be returned to her in its entirety and his management of the funds will cease. What he doesn’t tell her is that, if she refuses to participate in the scheme, he will have her killed.

Much to Jackson’s surprise, LuAnn tells him she needs time to think about it. Jackson has run this corruption scheme successfully several times in the last few months and has never had anyone hesitate to become “the winner.” He gives her 48 hours, not one minute longer, to decide.

LuAnn spends those hours researching the lottery itself and its recent winners. After long deliberation, she decides to refuse the offer. But before she can call Jackson, she returns to her trailer and interrupts a drug deal gone bad. Her baby’s father is nearly dead and the assailant turns on her. Using that innate physical strength, she gets herself and the baby away, but not before fracturing the assailant’s skull and getting knifed herself. Knowing how the local police will look at things, she calls Jackson and accepts his offer – five minutes before the deadline.

At this point the Rule of Three enters the plot – three events that take place in the space of only a few hours but that will dramatically shape the next ten years of LuAnn’s life. First, she doesn’t tell Jackson about the murders even though she was seen fleeing through town in the drug dealer’s pimpmobile. Secondly, the hit man, sent by Jackson to kill her if she refused the deal, observes her flight from the trailer and follows her even though Jackson calls off the hit. And thirdly, LuAnn, in her panic and stress, inadvertently uses her own name to buy a train ticket, against Jackson’s explicit instructions and she lies to Jackson about that fact.

As the promotional blurb for the book states, LuAnn wins the fixed lottery drawing and Jackson forces her to leave the country. And after the ten-year financial management contract – and the statute of limitations on lottery fraud – expires, LuAnn defies Jackson and returns to the U.S.

At this point, we are barely one-third of the way through the book, ten years into Luann’s life, and we have already been on one wild roller coaster of a ride. The remaining two-thirds takes place in less than two weeks and both the action and the tension increase exponentially. No one defies Jackson and lives through it – no one!

Baldacci knows how to write action scenes that are descriptive, realistic, tension-filled and capable of being fully visualized by the reader. He truly knows how to write fear and he knows how to make you feel fear. However, in this novel, his strength is in his in-depth characterizations of LuAnn, Jackson, Charlie and Riggs.

We feel LuAnn’s inner strength, her decisive moral compass and her determination to protect those she loves. We are paralyzed by the viciousness of Jackson’s psychopathy even as we are impressed by his genius-level abilities. We are continually warmed by the loyalty and fatherly love bestowed upon LuAnn and Lisa by Charlie, a man who leaves Jackson’s employ to take care of “his girls” when they flee the U.S. And we are relieved and given hope by the skills, determination and unconditional love from Riggs, the ex-undercover FBI agent who saves LuAnn from harm, from jail and from death on more than one occasion.

The book is long, over 600 pages. The plotline is as convoluted as real life can possibly be. You practically need a scorecard to keep track of Jackson’s chameleon-like disguises and his inventive methods of torturing and killing those who disappoint him. And by the end of the book, the question is not who is going to die, the question is who is going to live?

Cover Art from Goodreads

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