The assassin and his teenaged acquaintance

By Walt Braun

David Baldacci has made a nice career writing thrillers, and with the “The Innocent,” he has struck again.

His unlikely protagonist is Will Robie, a hit man for the U.S. government. It’s a solitary profession, and Robie is a solitary man. He makes a decent living killing individuals whom officials in the U.S. government think need to die, but he doesn’t have much of a life of his own.

His latest victims involve a South American drug lord, which is about as destructive a profession as one can imagine, and a Saudi prince who, in the tradition of Saudi princes, was wealthy beyond imagination. Trouble is, he spent a disproportionate share of his riches trying to undermine the United States.

Robie moves from hunter to hunted when he balks on his latest assignment — to kill a woman who is a U.S. citizen and government functionary and who has two children. When he fails, a backup sniper kills the mother and one of the children, and Robie knows he’s next.

His escape route crosses that of a desperate, and precocious, 14-year-old girl named Julie Getty, who is fleeing men who just killed her parents.

Robie doesn’t want to be burdened with her and she doesn’t trust him or anyone else. But they find themselves working together, joined by an FBI agent named Nicole Vance to find out who killed the government employee and who killed Julie’s parents.

The plot thickens when Robie’s handler — a man he’s never met — is found burnt to a crisp. What’s apparent is that whoever is after Robie has connections high in government circles, including the FBI and the Secret Service. The only people Robie can trust are Julie, Vance, a shadowy individual code-named Blue Man who directs the government’s assassin program, and the retired assassin Robie replaced.

After a couple of close calls, including the bombing of a bus that kills all the passengers shortly after he and Julie get off and an assault involving high-powered weaponry that kills a handful of innocent people but leaves him and Vance alive, Robie comes to realize he’s being toyed with. If someone really wanted him dead, he’d be dead.

Trouble is, he can’t figure out who would be after him — or why. He doesn’t doubt that he’s made plenty of enemies, but because he’s been so effective at his job, they’re dead.

Eventually, he realizes that he isn’t the target, but he also realizes that he won’t be allowed to live indefinitely. About the time he figures out who it is that is trifling with him, he also realizes who the real target is. And time is running out.

“The Innocent” doesn’t disappoint. It’s fast-paced, intelligent and filled with surprises. Baldacci does a superb job of weaving the killing of Julie’s parents into the central plot.

Among the intriguing aspects of the book is the relationship that develops between Robie and the teenager who’s certain she can take care of herself.

Julie is smart and smart-mouthed, but she’s also angry, grieving, scared and, like most adolescents, mixed up. Both she and Robie do some growing up during the story.

Baldacci has written more than 20 novels, and most have been bestsellers. It’s not hard to understand why.

To his credit, in effort to get Americans to read whatever books strike their fancy, Baldacci and his wife have established the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to expand literacy across our country.

Here’s hoping that story has a happy ending.

Walt Braun is the editor of the editorial page at the Manhattan Mercury.

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