Baldacci's 'Zero Day' a first-rate mystery


He's not from Texas, but you don't wanna mess with John Puller.
 
Puller is a combat veteran (Iraq, Afghanistan) and the most prolific investigator in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigative Division. He's tall, strong and in his 30s. He's also very loyal, intelligent and has an unquenchable fire to search for the truth.
 
Those traits run in the family too. His domineering father is a retired Army general, and his brother is an Air Force vet and nuclear arms expert. But the brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison.
 
In David Baldacci's riveting new novel, "Zero Day," Puller is visiting his brother in a Kansas prison when he gets an unusual assignment. He immediately flies back to the D.C. metro area, where he's told to travel to rural Drake, W.Va., to investigate a horrific scene — the murders of a prominent member of the Defense Intelligence Agency and his family. It appears to be a simple case, but Puller's boss tells him, "You're on your own with this one."

Puller has questions that go answered, and he heads off to the Mountaineer State, where he encounters some deception and mistrust. Fortunately, he finds someone to trust — Sam Cole, an attractive homicide detective in Drake who knows everyone in town. Together, they try to solve the Byzantine case, which gets more dangerous the deeper they dig.
 
Puller suspects a small-town conspiracy involving a powerful mining company and corruption. But things get worse. The case eventually involves the Department of Homeland Security, a mysterious building from the Atomic Age and the threat of a terrorist attack that could be bigger than 9/11.
 
"Zero Day" is the first Puller story in a new series by Baldacci. It's a first-rate mystery/drama that moves quickly and smoothly from scene to scene. Baldacci is an excellent writer who never lets the reader get bored or bogged down in extraneous details and subplots.
 
Although not a lot is revealed about Puller, he has the potential to be a dynamic character, a "good guy" soldier-type who is worth rooting for. Puller is also a badass who can outfight, outshoot and outsmart the enemy. But he is still battling some ghosts from the battlefield.
 
"Zero Day" has some surprises, most of them logical. Baldacci's story is pretty solid, but personally, I'm getting tired of reading about nuclear terrorism plots. The subject was a popular one even before Sept. 11, 2001, but it seems like every novelist has jumped on that bandwagon, for better or for worse.

I must admit that such dire stories are addictive reading. If Baldacci wants to build upon the atomic theme, maybe he should send Puller to Iran next to disable those nuclear facilities. He could be a one-man wrecking crew, a la Rambo or Chuck Norris. Now that could be one blast of a story.