Total Control

Image of Total Control
Release Date: 
July 25, 2023
Grand Central Publishing
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“Total Control is difficult to put down. The clarification of who’s who at the end is beyond satisfying.”

Is anyone ever in total control? A question not easily answered even in David Baldacci’s book, Total Control. A reprint from his earlier publication, this story holds up as well as it did in 1997.

Baldacci hooks the reader right from the first page. Arthur Liebermann, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is flying to California for a meeting with a high-ranking bank president. The plane barely makes it to cruising altitude when it tumbles to the earth, killing all on board.

Enter FBI special agent, Lee Sawyer, working with George Kaplan, head investigator with the NTSB. Their investigation quickly focuses on sabotage, and Liebermann as the victim most likely to be at the center of the crash.

But the story takes a sharp turn when it is learned that one of the victims of the plane crash is Jason Archer, a computer expert contracted by major technology firm, Global Titan. Within pages of the opening, the reader learns that Jason is not on the plane, although he has checked in and boarded.

Soon the reader is introduced to Sidney Archer, married to the man of her dreams, Jason; she has a beautiful child; she’s a successful part-time lawyer for Global Titan—she couldn’t ask for anything more. Then Sidney learns of the plane crash, and her world begins to dissolve before her eyes

Questions arise about Jason’s honesty, as it appears that he may be involved in industrial espionage. Sidney refuses to believe such stories and just before the memorial service, she receives a phone call—from Jason. Thrilled, confused, and not sure what she is hearing, Sidney sets out to prove the stories about his dishonesty are not true.

As Sawyer digs further into the plane crash, his focus turns to the families of the victims, and Sidney comes to his attention. His interviews with her tell him she is truly devastated, and yet there is an itch that he can’t scratch.

With each additional interview, Sawyer discovers small inaccuracies in her story while at the same time he is drawn to her in a way he can not explain. The investigation becomes more confused as he tries to discern a relationship between Arthur Liebermann and Jason Archer—if there even is one.

As the story continues to unfold, Sidney searches for her husband and how he got himself into this situation. Where is he? How did he not be on the plane? Is he guilty or innocent of the charges against him? Sidney’s belief in him is unwavering, and she refuses to take anyone’s word until she can learn the truth for herself. She also refuses to share information with Sawyer until it is almost too late.

As with all Baldacci stories, Total Control introduces a multitude of characters, each well developed, and each with his or her own power to control the reader. At one time, each character is the good guy, the savior; at another time, surely the perpetrator of all the crimes laid out before the reader. And as only Baldacci can do, each character travels back and forth from innocence to guilt until Baldacci drives the reader to the last chapters of the book where the real culprit is uncovered.

To his credit, many of his characters are painted as the offender in the middle of the book, but the reader is left with the understanding that there is still more to come.

Nathan Gamble, the CEO of Global Titan, a man not to be toyed with, is convinced Jason is guilty of selling secrets to his major rival, and as Sidney continues to work toward proving Jason’s innocence, Nathan sees her as being complicit with her husband in the crime. His revenge is not quiet.

In the meantime, Lee Sawyer’s ex-partner at the FBI, George Hardy, has retired and taken a job heading security for Global Titan. His benefits are immense, and as Sawyer turns more of his attention to Sidney, Hardy entices Sawyer to leave the FBI and join him. The benefits are, indeed, enticing. And yet Sawyer’s itch about Sidney remains, and he is unable to remove himself from the investigation until he determines the guilt or innocence of both Sidney and Jason.

And Sawyer wonders what in the world Arthur Liebermann’s role is in this confusing situation. With each day, the plane crash and industrial espionage begin to draw closer together as Sawyer’s investigation grows both murky and clear at the same time.

If there is even a smidge of criticism of Total Control, it would be that Baldacci has only the one major female role. No female bad guys . . . a missed opportunity, perhaps?

That being said, Total Control is difficult to put down. The clarification of who’s who at the end is beyond satisfying.