“End Game” by David Baldacci brings back two of his best characters, Will Robie and Jessica Reel. Baldacci has a knack for creating male and female leads who act in a homogeneous manner whether it’s Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, or his most recent series “Memory Man” with Amos Decker and Alexandra (Alex) Jamison. But, probably the best pair is Robie and Reel, who feed off one another in a cohesive partnership.
The first few chapters have Robie on a mission in London where he must single-handedly take out a Jihadist terrorist cell and Reel in Iraq providing sniper support for the military. After the completion of these missions, they are asked to find their supervisor, The Blue Man, Roger Walton, who has gone missing in Grand Colorado.
Traveling to Walton’s hometown in Colorado, they must use their lethal skills under a guise of secrecy to find him. They have faced evil overseas with the Islamic extremists, but now face it on the home front with Nazi wannabes, motorcycle gangs and a drug cartel. They enlist the help of Sherriff Valerie Malloy who knows the local community, many of whom enjoy the isolated and sparsely populated town. Unfortunately, the three find themselves up against adversaries with superior numbers and firepower and no lead on Blue Man’s whereabouts. This story is well worth the two-year wait, and readers should be delighted in Reel and Robie’s return.
Elise Cooper: Why the Colorado setting?
David Baldacci: Look at what is happening in the world and this country. There are a lot of isolationist areas where mainstream laws do not apply. I combined some of this topography and secrets into a story. This is a big state with sparsely populated areas. Someone who wants to fall off the grid would be attracted to it.
EC: Were you influenced by anything?
DB: I remember the Sherlock Holmes stories where he and Watson would go to the countryside. Watson would see the beautiful cottages and Holmes would see a harbinger of crime. He went on to say that in London there are many police officers that would be nearby compared to the countryside where there are miles and miles from local law enforcement. If there is a police force, it is very small, which allows people to get away with a lot.
EC: How would you describe the characters in this book?
DB: Reel is sarcastic and will not hesitate to be in your face, while Robie will hold back and is quiet. I flipped the typical stereotype of the aggressive male and the demure female, although you do not want to mess with each. I am not sure whom I would be more afraid of, but if I had to pick, it would probably be Jessica. They both get into a lot of trouble but are good people who try to do the right thing.
EC: What about their relationship?
DB: I am taking it slow. They have fits and starts, ebbs and flows, straddling the fence. What keeps them interesting to me is that they have not figured it all out and do not know what will happen in the future. They are not the sort of couple that will move into a house with a white picket fence and start gardening. I think a decision will probably be made in the next book because they are not getting any younger.
EC: Please describe Sherriff Valerie Malloy?
DB: She is the foil to Jessica. She is a new character and I find her very interesting. Although Robie made it clear where his feelings lie, I have not closed the door. She could absolutely show up in another book.
EC: Please describe The Blue Man?
DB: I enjoyed delving into his character in this book. He is not just this esoteric figure who pops in and out. He actually is seen with a life and a past. I like when he is involved because he brings this steadying, measured force and is a great conduit for Robie and Reel. I see him as an Obi-Wan Kenobi type with his wisdom and knowledge who is needed by Jessica and Will.
EC: You compare the skinheads to ISIS.
DB: Both recruit people who are disenfranchised, disaffected and disadvantaged. All of a sudden someone gets a lot of power because of their followers. They usually fund themselves through illegal activities and never want their members to leave.
EC: You explore domestic terrorism and terrorism overseas with Islamic extremists.
DB: There are two different kinds of terrorists. I think what happened in Las Vegas or in Texas shows we need to expand our definition of terrorism. In my mind, these are incidents of terrorism, just as what happened in New York to those bikers. If the act is designed to kill people and instill fear in people’s hearts, it is terrorism.
EC: The first couple of chapters have Will fighting Islamic terrorists in London. What did you want to convey?
DB: I want people to realize wars could be fought in many different types of battlefields, whether the desert in Iraq or the urban streets of London or America. These are two very different kinds of battlefields. Because many citizens have no direct engagement with the soldiers and their families, they think they could not be harmed. We are never really safe wherever we are. It is an important cliché, “See something, say something.” People should not be listening to their earbuds or staring at their phones oblivious to everyone around them.
EC: It seems to be in the English DNA to overcome adversity.
DB: Yes. This is why I put in the book quote, “Yet with enviable courage and calm, the town’s citizenry were carrying on with their lives.” Remember, they survived the Blitzkrieg so they have seen the worst kind of terrorism. I think it is really important to have their attitude that they will not let it take over their lives — otherwise, the terrorists win without firing a shot. I love England and have been there many times. I was there this May when there were two bombings. You see them saying, “Keep calm and carry on.” This is really how they live their lives.
EC: Jessica is a great character, but is it realistic that there are female snipers?
DB: Yes. They are finding females have better motor skills than men. This is a skill very much needed for snipers. They are also able to lie in one position for many hours a day. I have gone to military bases and fired the rifles, so I have an idea what it requires. I put the descriptions in the book. Through Jessica, people can understand it is not just falling on the ground, looking through a scope and firing the rifle. It is actually a science that involves a lot of math and physics.
EC: You also discuss a certain type of weapon, the Raufoss. Please explain.
DB: It is an incendiary round with three components. This bullet can punch through just about anything. Once it hits it incinerates, starting a fire. It also has a bomb set into the bullet core and will detonate. It is able to go into a hand-held weapon with devastating results. It is fired at armored vehicles, and hopefully never at people.
EC: Another point you bring out in the book is the wealthy hideaways.
DB: They converted these silos and have them all over the world. It is the uber wealthy hedging their bets if the world implodes. I did a lot of research on this. It should give all of us pause that people will spend millions of dollars constructing these safe havens. Jessica got it right when she said that we all should work a little harder to make sure this does not happen.
EC: Another one of the evildoers is a drug cartel-type.
DB: The opiate epidemic in this country is beyond belief. It is getting worse and has affected every community in America, no matter what is someone’s financial background. These are drugs of despair and create a situation without hope. I blame Pharma, because they were not making enough money just giving it to those with major pain so they started pushing them. It was all about making money.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next projects?
DB: On Nov. 25 the Hallmark Channel will air “The Christmas Train.” It is not a thriller, but has some mystery when a journalist travels on a train from D.C. to California in an attempt to find himself. He will meet up with someone he thought he would never see again.
Coming out in April of next year will be another “Memory Man” Amos Decker book titled “The Fallen.” Decker and his journalist friend Alex Jamison are visiting the home of Alex’s sister in Barronville, Penn. Two men are found dead and the investigation is thwarted by the local police and unforeseen forces.
Usually, I alternate the different series every two years so I am not sure when the next Will and Jessica book will be out. I do know Reel and Robie have a lot of room to evolve. They might continue this line of work or venture into something else. It is a decision I will make with them. I might even bring back Julie Getty, the young girl we first met in “The Innocent” and saw again in “The Hit.” We will see what is in store for these teammates.