Baldacci's 'Hell's Corner' a heavenly read


Just when we think Oliver Stone is at least down, if not out, he proves otherwise.

No, that’s not a spoiler, because it’s the least we can expect (now, isn’t it?) from Stone, the hero of David Baldacci’s Camel Club thrillers.

In case you’re not familiar with the series, it might be prudent to explain here that Baldacci’s Oliver Stone is not the renowned film director, but the current and somewhat fitting identity of a once-and-future spy whose original name was John Carr. Except that John Carr was officially declared dead — complete with grave at Arlington National Cemetery — some years before, and Stone has been struggling mightily to similarly bury everything associated with him.

To that end, he had adopted his current name and spent part of his time camping out in Lafayette Park across from the White House, holding a sign that reads “I want the truth.” The other part of his time is spent in a cottage at the African-American cemetery where he serves as caretaker, and meeting with the other members of the Camel Club to try to solve injustices they encounter, many of which are perpetrated or at least perpetuated by their own government.

The other members of the group include a skilled con woman, a librarian at the Library of Congress, a fellow retired member of the military and a current member of the U.S. Secret Service. Stone, once the country’s most skilled assassin, is revered by all for his flawless integrity, genuine patriotism and extremely loyal friendship.

Well, by all except certain federal officials.

In Baldacci’s newest Camel Club installment, “Hell’s Corner,” Stone is dragged back into service by none other than the president (whose life he saved in an earlier Camel Club episode), which doesn’t contribute to his popularity with certain functionaries. The task he’s given seems impossible — and would be, for nearly anyone but Stone — but a sharp detour very soon after his assignment sends him off on a completely different adventure, one in which he and his cohorts make almost no progress for much of the book as they’re confronted by one frustrating obstacle after another.

The story, which starts in the very same Lafayette Park (dubbed “Hell’s Corner” because of conflicting jurisdictions), involves Russian and Mexican cartels, but Baldacci doesn’t dig too deeply into cultural idiosyncrasies. He’s too busy developing characters, and what fascinating characters they are. Which agents are really double agents? And is there such a thing as a triple agent? Only Baldacci, it seems, knows for sure.

There was one predictable element: Despite a harrowing encounter that could have killed them all, the Camel Club survived, and before I reached that part of the book I was sure of it.

Not that I’m complaining. Baldacci had seemed to end the series after the previous installment, “Divine Justice,” and I, for one, was awfully glad he didn’t. I look forward to the continuing adventures of this very elite club.