By David Baldacci. #2 in John Puller Series. Grade A
“Military criminal investigator John Puller is drawn closer to him when his aunt is found dead in her house in Paradise, Florida. The local police have ruled the death as an accident, but Puller finds evidence to suggest that she may have well been murdered.
On the surface, the town lives up to its name, but as Puller digs deeper he realizes that this town and its inhabitants are more akin to Hell that Paradise. His belief is confirmed as evidence of strange and inexplicable events come to light.
And when Puller learns the truth about what is happening in this once sleepy town, he knows that his discoveries will impact far wider than Paradise.”
Paradise, a picture-perfect town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, thrives on rich tourists and senior citizens, both of whom are drawn to its sunny beaches and calm atmosphere. However, the words “Mysterious happenings – No one is as they seem,” draw Military criminal investigator CWO John Puller to Paradise when his aunt, Betsy Simon, writes a letter to his father, summoning him to investigate these happenings in this sleepy beach town.
Once Puller reaches Florida, and discovers that his aunt is dead, he immediately suspects foul play. He tries to attain the help of the local police, but they have ruled the death an accident and refuse to listen to him. Left with no other option, he starts carrying out his own personal investigation, along with some help from Officer Cheryl Landry, Paradise Police force (and also one of the female leads who tries to woo him); and his friends and contacts in the army, One-Star General Julie Carson (the other female lead who romances Puller), and Kristen Craig. And once he comes to know about the murders of another elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Storrow, his suspicions are re-affirmed.
On a parallel level is the story of a six foot-six inch “giant” from Bulgaria (who manages to escape from an oil platform in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and swim to Paradise), Mecho. Mecho works as a landscaper on the property of the richest man living in Paradise, Peter Lampert, and he seems to be very interested the life of the rich. Mecho is on a mysterious mission, which does seem like a burglary initially. However, as any Baldacci book, we get no whiff of what this “secret mission” actually is until much later. Mecho’s and Puller’s paths intersect many a times, and neither knows whether they should trust the other, as Mecho seems like a match for Puller’s strength and determination to carry out what he wants.
While the first half of the book develops slowly, it maintains the intrigue as Puller pursues his investigations. In the second half, things start to come together and the action builds. There are several twists along the way. This is unlike most Baldacci books where you dive headfirst, and was more reminiscent of Lee Child’s Reacher novels. Even Puller is unlike most Baldacci protagonists, quiet and solitary, again highly reminiscent of the unbeatable Reacher.
Human trafficking, which is the crux of the story, and is apparent from the very first chapter of the book, is the very “mysterious happening,” that Aunt Betsy refers to in her letter.
“He collects the product, the people, and then they are transferred to this country,” said Diaz. “He has established buyers everywhere. He gets the people to them. They are separated into three main categories. Prostitutes are the most valuable. Next are Drug Mules. Then common labourers.”
Mecho added, “They wear different-coloured clothing that shows which category they fall into.”
Puller’s investigation leads him to the hub of this human trafficking racket, and he along with Mecho, Carson, and Special Colombian Officer Diaz manage to bust this operation.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was crisp, and a complete page turner. The suspense is there till the end, making one guess Puller’s next move at every moment; and the twists and turns did not make me want to keep down the book. I loved the supporting characters as well, especially Aunt Betsy’s neighbour Cookie, who is a baker.
Overall, I feel that The Forgotten is a must read for all those who love thrillers and mystery novels!