International political thrillers aren't always my cup of tea, but this book was just bad. I don't pretend to hold thrillers to the same standards as great works of art, but one has to draw the line somewhere. David Baldacci's writing isn't the worst I've seen, but it's not great. More worrisome, however, is the absence of an interesting plot or fascinating characters.
The Whole Truth concerns a plot by the head of an arms contractor, Nicolas Creel, to plunge the world into a new Cold War so he can sell more defence contracts to major world powers. He enlists the aid of a PM ("perception management") guru, Dick Pender. Together, he and Pender create a global campaign of fear and terror using a combination of misdirection and blatant lies marketed as the Truth.
On the side of the good guys we've got Shaw, a super-secret spy/assassin; and Katie James, an ex-alcoholic burned out newspaper reporter with a traumatic past. Shaw gets engaged near the beginning of the book, to a super-smart chick named Anna Fischer, but she gets killed by the bad guys. And I think that's where my apathy toward The Whole Truth began its inexorable descent toward dislike.
Very little about the plot is convincing enough to maintain suspension of disbelief. Shaw works for yet another shady international police organization that does the really dark and dirty wetwork that Interpol and the CIA don't want to do or are too incompetent to do. However, said organization is incredibly incompetent in its own right--Baldacci uses them as a scapegoat whenever he needs something to go wrong to put Shaw in peril. Then, toward the end of the book, they have to work with the FBI to arrest Creel on his yacht parked in Italian waters--what?
Baldacci also has a very grating way of describing how new media, such as the Internet and its associated cornucopia of devices, aids Pender and Creel in disseminating their PM campaign. Phrases such as "electronically 'piled on'" are ... well, corny. I'm biased, coming from a generation that lives and breathes the Internet, but Baldacci's descriptions are clunky. Likewise, he relies a great deal on handwaving tracking technology in whatever direction he requires for the plot--sometimes tracking works, other times it doesn't. This is perhaps my least favourite aspect of contemporary thrillers: the inconsistent use of technology as a plot device.
To be fair, there are a couple of interesting moments, but they are few and far between. And the one-dimensional characters don't help. It seems like our protagonists are contractually-obligated to have a "troubled past." I don't see why I'm supposed to like Katie James, and Baldacci's constant reminders that she was an alcoholic made me wonder if there were any other defining characteristics about this person. Shaw, on the other hand, is supposed to be unremarkable, yet he has "amazing eyes." And can apparently survive multiple bullet wounds without blinking. About the only character I actually liked was Anna Fischer, and as I mentioned before, she gets killed off to give Shaw a revenge motive.
The Whole Truth tries too hard, and it shows. The plot and its characters are unrealistic; if Baldacci's writing were better, then maybe it would still be enjoyable. As it is, however, even fans of political thrillers can do better.