In his 22nd, Baldacci (The Sixth Man, 2011, etc.) introduces a soldier/sleuth who fights like Rambo and thinks like Holmes.
Mountain-sized and über-brainy, John Puller is about as unconquerable as mere mortals get to be. An ex-warrior—Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else his country’s enemies happened to be entrenched—he’s served with unvarying distinction. As a consequence, the fruit salad (Army slang for medals) he pins to his dress uniform tells a glory story already the stuff of legend. These days, however, Warrant Officer Puller fights a somewhat different kind of war—quieter perhaps, but only marginally less dangerous. Employed by the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigations Division, he battles military crime, and he is—it’s universally acknowledged—terrific at it. Still, his latest assignment has him scratching his head a bit. In tiny Drake, W.Va., a colonel, his wife and two teenage kids have been murdered, and Puller’s been ordered to find out the why and catch the who. A pitiless, carefully staged bloodbath, it’s the kind of headline-grabber that ordinarily would have had teams of special agents pell-melling into Drake, yet here’s Puller flying solo, offered not much more in terms of guidance than, “play nice with the locals.” On the upside, one of the locals turns out to be a smart, remarkably attractive police sergeant named Samantha Cole. Born and Bred in Drake, she’s in a position to provide needed insights into her town’s power structure and usual suspects list. Four dead bodies on Puller’s arrival, a total that almost at once zooms to seven with no real reason to suppose it’s reached its limit. What’s going on in this small, coal belt community to suddenly transform it into a charnel-house? Another poser for Puller: how to keep from personally adding to the count?
Relentlessly formulaic, but Puller is a strong enough protagonist to keep the pages turning.