Bridgette Redman's Reviews > The Collectors

The Collectors by David Baldacci
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's review
Feb 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in October, 2006

Libraries conjure up peaceful images—quiet, stately places where everything is minutely ordered. It's a place where minds meet and share ideas from ancient to modern days. So it might seem an unusual place to set a violent espionage thriller.

And yet, the pages within the spines of the books collected at libraries everywhere narrate limitless accounts of adventure, knowledge, and conjecture. So perhaps it is far less ironic than it might seem. In fact, one might almost say that a library is a perfect setting, and what better library than the United States' largest library, the Library of Congress.

David Baldacci follows his bestselling The Camel Club with The Collectors, a thriller that opens with the assassination of the Speaker of the House and the director of the Library of Congress. Caleb Shaw, the rumpled librarian member of the Camel Club and a Library of Congress employee narrowly escapes the fate of his boss, prompting the fellow members of the Camel Club to investigate.

Numerous collectors populate the pages of this novel. There is the collector of souls who saves a trinket from each of the people he kills. Many book collectors wander in and out of the pages, sharing their esoteric knowledge of books, literature, and page lore. Others collect government secrets and betrayals. Everyone, it seems, has something they collect, something that broadcasts their soul.

David Baldacci knits several yarns together in this novel, giving readers multiple points of view without ever sacrificing suspense despite the generous peeks at the actions of the antagonists. It does take some time to figure out exactly what creation is being knit as the book picks up the yarns of the assassin, the victim, a group of high-powered cons, a casino boss, and the Camel Club members.

The multiple points of view mean that the book gets off to a slow start--especially for readers who have not read The Camel Club and are unfamiliar with its members, led by ex-CIA agent Oliver Stone who lives alternately in a tent across from the White House and in a cemetery cottage. They don't seem particularly interesting at first, though that definitely changes as the novel progresses. It is the group of high-powered cons that are the most fascinating. Annabelle Conroy is out to pull off a major con against a ruthlessly violent casino boss. She gathers three other scammers and together they undertake three heists--two shorts and a long--that promise to make them all rich and give Annabelle the revenge she desires.

She eventually meets up with the Camel Club members who are being drawn deeper and deeper into the investigation of a killer and spymaster who is cynically selling out his country, his former comrades, and every secret he can get his hands on. That he has so many people working with him is a depressing statement about greed. In fact, the poverty of most Camel Club members seems to add to their virtuosity.

Baldacci does not tie off all the loose ends in this book, leaving one major plot point hanging for resolution in a future book. In fact, Annabelle joins the Camel Club members so late in the book that it is almost as though it is a setup for the next novel (though she does contribute in major ways to the resolution of this mystery).

There is a great deal of cynicism in this novel. The law-abiders are so rare as to make one wonder whether the law serves any purpose at all. Even the protagonists frequently break laws in the name of protecting others and serving the greater good. The sex in the novel is also more seamy than redeeming. Sex is used as a tool and a weapon but never as a way for two like minds to meet in body.

The cynicism does open the door for readers to embrace the unlikely heroes. The Camel Club members are a quartet of people completely lacking in riches, power, and social position. They could almost be considered nobodies in a town where riches, power, and social position is everything. They also possess an unlikely courage in the face of intense danger.

David Baldacci takes his readers on a tour of the Library of Congress throughout the book, introducing them to how the library works, its treasures, and the people who populate it. He even provides an interview with an architect who is lovingly able to explain some of the recent reconstructions.

Overall, one of the strengths of the book is in the loving attention to detail and the fascinating tidbits of information that are constantly being thrown out. Another strength is that the characters are not high-powered spies with the resources of powerful organizations behind them. Rather they are the disenfranchised "little guys" of society who are fighting against something bigger and more powerful than themselves.

In all, The Collectors is an entertaining read that adds its own quirks and characters to the genre.

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