David Baldacci casts one of regular characters, John Puller, as the protagonist in his newest book, “The Forgotten.” Puller is a combat veteran and a tough special investigator in the U.S. Army. His father is a famous three-star general who has Alzheimer’s.
In this story, Puller’s mission is personal. His father receives a mysterious letter from his sister, Puller’s Aunt Betsy.
Aunt Betsy asks for help and says strange things are happening in Paradise, Fla., where she lives.
In her letter, she wrote that “people are not who they seem to be.”
Puller flies to the Emerald Coast to help his aunt. Unfortunately, he’s too late. He finds out that she died in what appeared to be an accident but he has his doubts. He decides to check into a motel, stay awhile and investigate her death.
When he meets her neighbor, Cookie, Cookie says Betsy was doing great and he wasn’t aware of any problems. Puller also strikes up acquaintances with a couple of local boys named Diego and Mateo.
While there, he stops the attempted rape of a Hispanic girl by several members of a gang.
The gang comes back another night to take Puller down and might have succeeded except for an unidentified giant man who silently intervenes. Puller becomes more suspicious when the bodies of a nice couple in town are found washed up on the beach.
Next, Cookie dies, Diego and Mateo disappear, and Puller is even more convinced that all these deaths and disappearances are not coincidences.
Puller’s private poking around sometimes helps local police and sometimes gets in their way. One local officer, Landry, seems a little too interested in helping Puller. Instead, Puller turns to a friend, Army Gen. Julie Carson.
In the meantime, the “giant,” whose name is Mecho, is not quite who he appears to be.
He has been hired as part of the gardening crew on the largest estate in Paradise. From that vantage point, he is watching the owner, Peter J. Lampert.
The house’s other occupants consist of staff, bodyguards and beautiful women. Mecho is planning to exact revenge on Lampert who is at the top of a human trafficking chain.
Every night, boatloads of illegal immigrants are brought ashore to be shipped off as prostitutes, drug mules or slave laborers.
Mecho’s daughter was kidnapped several years ago, and he wants revenge and to find her.
Mecho attracts the attention of one of the women in the house, but doesn’t know if he should trust her. Mecho is successful in blowing up Lampert’s car as a warning that Lampert has enemies worth fearing.
The two worlds of Puller and Mecho will collide in separate efforts to take down Lampert and his human trafficking operation.
In “The Forgotten,” Baldacci brings to life a saga of desperate people — the forgotten — who think they’re about to embark on the opportunity of a lifetime in America and instead find they’re living a nightmare they can’t escape.
Baldacci is one of America’s most prolific novelists, with one story after another climbing to the top of bestseller lists.
Maggie Braun is a Manhattan resident.