A Minute to Midnight by David Baldacci is the second in the Atlee Pine series. Baldacci has a knack for creating a series that is suspenseful and action-packed. This novel starts off where the first one stopped.
Baldacci noted, “This is the continuation from the first book where Atlee searched for her twin. In this novel, I wanted her to have a dramatic experience that would lead to an ultimatum that would give her a “get out of jail card.” Basically, she was told not to work for the FBI until she figures out her past. Everything else in the book flowed from this.”
From the very first page the intensity begins. Atlee Pine is the only FBI Agent in Shattered Rock Arizona, and as she is heading home, she hears of a child abduction. Atlee ends up seeing the car and becomes involved in a chase. She saves the child, Holly, from a terrible fate, but her actions in apprehending the perpetrator results in her losing control, leading to a violent altercation with the captured offender. Atlee’s boss strongly suggests that she take some time off to sort her head out about her personal demons.
“One of my first female characters was Secret Service Agent Michelle Maxwell who was a member of WIFLE, Women in Federal Law Enforcement. I actually got a call from them and was told I was the only author who had a character representing this organization. They asked me to be the keynote speaker. I spoke to 2,000 women with weapons. It was very intimidating. After speaking with them I found out about the hurdles they had to overcome. I came away with the impression that they have this intense drive. In this book, I hope readers are able to see what someone like Atlee had to go through.”
Atlee decides that she needs to return to her childhood home of Andersonville, Georgia to find out what happened to her twin sister Mercy, 30 years ago. Knowing that she should not go alone, her assistant Carol Blum goes on this journey with her.
Pine’s memories are hazy. She remembers how the abductor chose to take her sister, leaving Pine with life threatening injuries. She reflects on how these traumatic events led to her parents, Tim and Julia, leaving Georgia and how it tore their marriage apart. She lived with her mother, until Julia left her. As Atlee probes into the past, she uncovers shocking surprises and secrets that have her questioning everything she ever knew about her family. At the same time, a string of murders occur which has Pine wondering whether they are coincidental to her return.
“I wanted to show how human beings are the most malevolent predators. We are one of the very few species that kill for malice. Most animals kill to eat or protect. We kill to intimidate or hurt someone that comes with the complexity of the human brain. I feel the civilized world is one step away from being non-civilized. I put in this quote, “It doesn’t take much for civilized people to become animals.” With this story, I hope I explained the motivation and rationale behind what the bad people did.”
Known for his many twists and turns, Baldacci does not disappoint in this novel. The bad news is that he has left many things unresolved, while the good news is that there will be another book with Atlee Pine as the main character.