David Baldacci: THE GUILTY Interview

THE GUILTY is a story about revenge, relationships, and regrets. It begins with Will Robie unable to pull the trigger because of a past that must be confronted. He returns to the family and town he abandoned twenty years ago to prove his father’s innocence in a murder charge.

Elise Cooper: Why did you create a character that is a CIA sniper?Baldacci

David Baldacci: I like to challenge myself. A few years ago I wanted to write about a protagonist for a new series that has to be appealing and that readers care about. But since I made his profession as an assassin it became quite a challenge to have people root for him and not against him. Will has humanity and does not just act as a robot. He does not kill purely for pay, but believes in what he is doing. He takes a life for the greater good and to protect society.

EC: You have a lot of information about a sniper. Please explain.

DB: We should appreciate that it is necessary for these professionals to work in anonymity. It means no one ever hears about what was done unless something goes bad. I did a lot of research, spending some time with the Rangers in Fort Benning, Ga. While on the sniper range I fired just about every weapon out there. I saw that optics is their whole world. At one point my target was 1800 meters away. At that range weather, wind, topography, patience, and fatigue become factors.

EC: Why the backstory on Will?

DB: I liked the idea for him to go back into his past, which will also drive him forward. I needed two issues. First, something that stonewalled him in his professional life. Then, having to confront his past after his father is accused of murder.

David talking with President Obama.

EC: Would you consider the killer a psychopath?

DB: Yes. The way their brain works is that they do not see people as human beings, but someone to be manipulated for power. They have no remorse. They see people as prey. What makes them scary is that they appear normal, but have no emotions.

EC: Why the Mississippi setting?

DB: I grew up in the South. In a way it is a place that still lives in history. I like to write about the people there, the lifestyles, the old plantations, and the undeveloped areas. It takes Robie back to a world that is nothing like where he currently lives, in Washington DC.

EC: Can you compare Reel and Robie?

DB: Will is methodical and not as impulsive. Reel’s instincts are better than Robies. She is sarcastic and not as much as a brooder. I based her on my experiences with women like my wife. She always tells me, ‘If you want it done, send a man. If you want it done right, send a woman.’ Will and Jessica are similar to planets revolving serenely around the universe versus a super nova shooting across. Reel is the super nova.

EC: Would you ever make Reel and Robie an item?

DB: I am reluctant because once I do that some of the tension will be lost. The same is true for my other series characters of Maxwell/King as well as Amos Decker and Alex Jamison. In the most important aspects they are in a relationship because they care deeply about each other and will do anything to protect one another.

EC: The Barksdale family defines dysfunctional. Do you agree?

DB: There is always a problem when there is too much blue blood. I read novels and stories about the Deep South where incestuous relationships were ripe. I don’t think Faulkner ever wrote a book that did not have some incestuous relationships. The South had grand families where everyone was marrying each other’s cousin. I think the plot was entirely plausible.

EC: What do you want readers to get out of THE GUILTY?

DB: Challenges from the past that are never confronted and resolved will affect your present life. Most of us have that going on in our lives. An issue can come back to haunt you at a future time. I like writing characters that have an emotional or physical challenge that can either make them stronger or weaker.

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next books?

DB: Out in April will be a sequel to MEMORY MAN, featuring Amos Decker. The plot involves the world of football, where Amos tackles a case about a man falsely imprisoned for life. In the fall he will bring back John Puller, the military CID investigator.