Baldacci (The Whole Truth, 2008, etc.) moves his recurring Camel Club characters far enough offstage to let tough guy hero Oliver Stone take on a mean mountain town singlehandedly (for a while, at least) in something of the fashion of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.
The dark American hole in need of a flushing out is Divine, a tiny burg in Virginia’s far southwest coal country where quietly modest Vietnam hero Stone, né John Carr, has landed. It’s not where he was going. He had been getting the hell out of Washington, D.C., where heavy-handed, stonehearted, government forces were about to close in on him, but he couldn’t help stepping into an unfair fight brewing in his Amtrak coach. Handsome, youngish ex-high school quarterback Danny Riker was stupid enough to accuse knuckle draggers with whom he had been playing cards of cheating, leading to a knock down drag out in which Stone wasted all of the thugs and incurred the wrath of the Amtrak conductor, making it necessary for all involved to get off at the next stop. Stone takes Danny under his wing and Danny reluctantly takes Stone back home to Divine and his pretty mother Abby, owner of Divine’s best diner. Stone notes quickly that Divine has a gloss of prosperity very unlike the neighboring hellholes. That sheen doesn’t extend to the downtrodden miners whose hideous labors keep them gobbling methadone day after day. Where’s the money coming from? There is one other visible industry, a supermax prison run by the brother of the handsome, straight-shooting sheriff, but that doesn’t explain the prosperity. Stone begins to nose around the place, running up against numerous unsavory characters, saving lives when possible, getting mad when not, dodging the usual falling safes until his probing causes him to wake up buried alive in a dead coal mine. There is a dalliance with Abby, but the evil feds close in on Stone so it is necessary for his Camel Club cohorts to dig him out in the end.
Tighter than the writer’s most recent efforts, but far from spellbinding.