Book review: David Baldacci's 'Zero Day' is a suspenseful page-turner

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

"ZERO DAY," by David Baldacci, Grand Central Publishing, $27.99, 434 pages (f), also released in paperback

When a postal carrier in a rundown West Virginia coal town tries to deliver a package and stumbles onto a bloody crime scene, he freaks.

The victims are an officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the officer's wife and their two children, and the murders seem out of place in the town. But the killings set in motion events involving John Puller Jr., an investigator in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command. Puller is assigned to the case — by himself — and is told that there's heavy interest "at the top."

Author David Baldacci, who has a law degree from the University of Virginia and practiced law for nine years, has written a string of suspense novels, many with plots involving the U.S. government. In "Zero Day," he has another winner.

Puller's past is complicated: He served in Iraq and Afghanistan; some comrades were killed by an IED; his father was a legendary commanding officer; and his brother, Robert, is a convicted traitor serving time at Leavenworth. Puller is the kind of guy who makes a good investigator — a driven loner who doesn't let anyone get too close to him.

The reader follows Puller to West Virginia, where the local authorities are supervising the murder investigation. Samantha Cole, the detective in charge, has her own family challenges, and there are the usual "who-are-you-and-why-are-you-here" moments. But Puller and Cole settle into cooperating with each other.

The homicide investigation leads to a conspiracy that may reach far beyond the tiny mining town. Puller, with Cole's help, uncovers deception that leads them from the mega-house of Roger Trent, the mining mastermind who owns most of the town, to the Pentagon to the local Harley motorcycle club. Puller and Cole fight to discover the truth despite attempts on their lives.

"Zero Day" would probably win a PG-13 rating if it were a film because of its sprinkling of rude words and a healthy dose of violent images, mostly in the ways people meet their demises.

But Baldacci meets the true test of sucking a reader into his yarn. First thing you know, it's way past your bedtime, but you just keep turning the pages.

E-mail: rwalsh@desnews.com

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