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The Collectors    by David Baldacci order for
by David Baldacci
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Collectors follows The Camel Club as the second in a highly entertaining series about a ragtag, bickering group of eccentric misfits - conspiracy theorists all, led by ex-government assassin/current cemetery caretaker Oliver Stone - who manage to foil the nefarious plots of powerful Washington insiders. In addition to Stone, members include: timid librarian Caleb Shaw; Vietnam vet/ex-DIA employee Reuben Rhodes; genius Milton Farb (whose computer skills and photographic memory often come in handy); and Secret Service agent Alex Ford (made an honorary member after the club's first adventure).

This episode opens on the assassination of the U.S. Speaker of the House by a CIA agent, Roger Seagraves, with his own agenda. We quickly learn that he's partnered with a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a lucrative money-making scheme. Seagraves is very good at what he does, both in his CIA day job and in moonlighting at murder (he collects souvenirs of all his victims). Another death soon follows the first - Caleb Shaw's Library of Congress boss, Jonathan DeHaven (also a collector, of old books). Caleb discovered the body, leading to his hospitalization. This arouses the interest of the Camel Club - and Stone doesn't believe that the victim died of a heart attack as reported.

In parallel with these murky events in Washington, readers get to see a master con artist in action. Annabelle Conroy, daughter of a legend in the business, gathers a team for a couple of shorts and one very hairy long con. Her ultimate target is Atlantic City casino boss Jerry Bagger, 'a walking cliché from a bad mob movie', and the man who murdered her mother. The plan is for all four team members to scatter, get out of the country, and lie low, before their victim realizes what's happened - but then Annabelle hears about a death in Washington. She figures she has four days before Bagger goes ballistic, but time runs out fast after she gets embroiled in the Camel Club's activities. It looks like her talents will be an asset to the group ... until Bagger catches up with her.

DeHaven's will specified Caleb as literary executor, giving Camel Club members access to his home. There, Caleb discovers an extremely rare book and Reuben is delighted by a telescope that spies on a neighboring bedroom in an adulterous defense contractor's home. Club members are followed, attacked, one is arrested for murder, while another is kidnapped - in other words, a typical case. Continuing with The Collectors' bookish theme, the action culminates at the National Book Festival. Baldacci masterfully weaves together the skeins of a convoluted plot into a thoroughly satisfying read that sets the scene nicely for a roaring start to the next episode.

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